By Rosalie I. Tennison
There is more to be concerned about in your bin than potatoes.
Proper potato storage is a high-tech proposition these days as growers attempt
to store their crop longer while maintaining its quality to meet the dictates
of a contract. Grandpa's old method of throwing the spuds in a cold room in
the basement with the hope that enough would survive until the next crop was
dug has not been a viable storage alternative since Grandpa did it. However,
a few growers still think like Grandpa, even if they do not practice his methods,
which can lead to some serious storage problems in the modern potato production
Researchers and processors are stepping up to help growers navigate the route
to good storage practices. Dr. Robert Coffin of Cavendish Farms on Prince Edward
Island is a self-proclaimed 'storage crusader' as he sees a need to help growers
understand their storage better and improve its efficiency. "Growers need
to understand the fundamentals of storage which will help minimize losses,"
Coffin says. "Education is paramount. For example, growers need to understand
relative humidity and what it means to stored potatoes." He says, while
there are many high-tech storage systems available for growers to use, those
growers still need to understand some basic science to make the technology work
"I've been in storage facilities where the floors were wet and the walls
were dripping," continues Coffin in a 'basics of relative humidity' lecture.
"If you have 100 percent humidity, the air can't remove moisture! It won't
matter how many fans you have circulating the air if all it is doing is circulating
the air that is already saturated. Instead, we had to circulate outside air
into the bin and use heaters to reduce the humidity." He says, because
some growers do not understand some of the basics of science, they can have
trouble with their storage no matter how many computers and monitors they have
Over at New Brunswick's McCain Foods (Canada), Dr. Yves Leclerc, a potato specialist,
says his company started offering a monitoring service to its growers. "We
want our growers to get the best out of their storage. We saw that once they
grew the crop, they were uncertain how to manage it."
Coffin adds that companies selling computerized storage controls do not always
ensure the purchaser understands the basics of storage, which leads to problems.
He says once growers understand the fundamentals of storage, the controls become
the tool they are intended to be with the grower ensuring they are working properly.
While the literature might suggest the controls take the guesswork out of storage
problems, a collection of wires and probes cannot replace the observations of
a grower checking his storage regularly and ensuring nothing is amiss.
Leclerc suggests storage gets forgotten after the crop is out of the ground.
"In the summer, there are all kinds of consultants in the field, but there
are few consultants for storage management," he says. "Growers need
to spend the same amount of time on storage as they do in the field growing
the crop. Humidity, temperature, and air quality have to be monitored on a regular
Just as a dairy farmer would not head off to Florida without ensuring the cows
are being looked after, potato growers cannot leave their storage unattended
for long periods. Potatoes are still living products and quality can be affected
over time if storage is not maintained at a level to preserve that quality.
A great deal of research has been conducted and is understood by growers on
how to reduce disease and pests in stored potatoes and how to maintain levels
of humidity and air circulation. But, according to Coffin, because the end use
of the potatoes may be different, each end use has its own guidelines on how
to maintain quality to that end use's specifications. It is the differences
that sometimes leave growers juggling a hot potato! They do not always understand
the fundamentals well enough to ensure the end result.
Perhaps the best advice to growers is to brush up on storage fundamentals through
specialized training sessions. Then, if they are still unsure of the basics,
seek out a storage consultant. If a grower has a contract with a large processor,
there might be an agronomist on staff at the company who will help manage the
crop in storage to extract the most value and optimize colour. Growing potatoes
is a full-time business and the work does not end when the bin door closes.