July/August 2012
Keeping it Clean: Sanitary potato storage promotes healthy tubers By Bill Schaefer

You’ve made major investments in time, labor and inputs to bring in a healthy crop of potatoes. Now the question is: Have you made the necessary investments in your storage system to protect thehealthofyourcropgoing into storage?

You may have brought in a great harvest, but that’s only the first half of the job. Now you have to bring those potatoes to market healthy and with minimal shrinkage.

Storage cleaning and disinfection are critical steps to minimizing disease carryover.

Mary LeMere, storage research manager at the University of Wisconsin’s Hancock Agricultural Station, said that her focus during the summer is sanitizing storage facilities and anything that comes into contact with the potatoes.

Sanitizing walls, ceilings, floors, plenums, but it’s also sanitizing any equipment that mightbringinair — fansand humidity systems,” LeMere said.

Along with the actual storage facility, LeMere said that they sanitize all the trucks transporting spuds from the field to the storage systems — and not just once.

“If you have a problem field, make sure you sanitize the trucks again before going to another field,” LeMere said.

Verify that equipment is ready and lubed with food-safe oil or grease, LeMere advised.

Communication between the field manager and the storage manager is a key factor in keeping healthy potatoes in storage.

“Those two people need to talk to eachother,”LeMeresaid. “If you don’t know what those potatoes look like in the field, it will be very difficult to manage them well in storage.”

LeMere’s final advice? “Monitoring, monitoring, monitoring,” she said. “Your eyes and nose are going to tell you a lot. We in Wisconsin do a lot of chipping and we look at our sugars pretty regularly — here at our facility a minimum of once a week.

“Sugar analysis will tell you a lot. It can tell you what the chip color is today and what the chip color could potentially become long term in storage.”

Nathan Oberg, Agri-Stor storage specialist, said that far too often, storage systems are not ready when they should be. Then growers are scrambling to fix a problem as the potatoes are going into storage — the worst possible time to be correcting a problem.

Oberg recommends that growers get a preseason storage evaluation, well in advance of harvest.

“What we tend to see is if guys don’t utilize, say, somebody like us, they tend to run into all kinds of nuisance problems,” Oberg said. “So there’s problems with humidification systems that went undetected or there’s issues with the refrigeration systems.

“The wrong time to figure out something isn’t working is after you put 10,000 or 20,000 sacks in storage.”

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