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Looking back: 50 years in potato production

Potato planting has gone from two- and four-row planters to six- and even up to 12 row planters, without anymore workers on the machines, poking seed to flow better. Instead of people, there are row monitors and seed piece counters.

GPS and auto-steer mechanisms have taken the place of row markers on the planters. The payloader replaced the men filling the planters by hand. Instead of cutting seed of any size, we have sized seed and separate the B size tubers.

Chemical control went from DDT and Paris Green to soil-applied insecticides. Soil-applied fungicides came on the scene, reducing soil-borne pathogens such as Rhizoctonia.

In earlier years, contact chemicals were mostly applied on the foliage, then came the pre-emergence chemicals and the systemic and trans-laminar fungicides. Black dot disease appeared, after pink eye and pink rot. A simple PVY disease became PVYo, PVYn, PVYn:o, PVYntn.

While Aster Yellow, Purple top and leafhoppers were considered a problem, they were less serious than Zebra chip, transmitted by psyllids. Herbicides seemed to solve many problems until resistance developed, for example, against the ALS group. Earlier green manure was considered important, but fumigation seemed to have replaced rotation.

Fertilizers were granular and mostly broadcasted. Today you can buy "Prilled," "Slow release," "Homogenized," "Encapsulated" or "Chelated." We also look at micronutrients in liquid fertilizers and adjust our amounts to the results of grid sampling.

Cultivation was done with shovel cultivators, but now we use power tillers -- and they're doing a
better job. Almost all tractors were still two-wheel drive; then the front-wheel assist arrived and four-wheel drive or tracks. The rubber track is so much more practical than the old steel tracks.

At harvest, the clod hopper replaced the hand picking of clods. The harvester had steel links, but the need for reducing bruises resulted in the use of rubber-coated chains. The harvesters were first driven by pto and later by hydraulic orbit motors.

Storages were small and below ground. Now they are large multiple-bin, climate-controlled and above ground.
Bags were hand sewn; then came the electric sewing machine. The 100-pound bag became a 2,000-pound tote bag. The burlap bag has become a fiber mesh bag.

The bags were moved by hand carts until slip sheets, pallets and forklifts or skid loaders came along to load in bulk. The sacks were loaded by hand in rail cars. Now potatoes are moved in bulk on articulated booms.

Potatoes were transported in trucks with steel slides in truck boxes. They have since been replaced by tri-axles and semis with multi-speed belt bottoms. Trucks were governed by local and township rules, which have been replaced by rules from the DOT, OSHA and special weight permits.

The bagging machines that required placing bags by hand evolved into automated machines with rolls of poly and self-sealing automated clips.

Potato-sizing machines consisted of octagonal chains, but now have expanding rollers, and computer-driven machines that sort by weight and/or size. Grading was a human endeavor and can now be performed faster by electronic sorting eyes.

Seed is sold by direct contract and hardly by brokers anymore. Where a handshake once had the force of a contract, now it takes a full legal department.

COD on buying and delivery has become delayed payments of 30 days to six months.

Every state has its own seed certification regulations. There was no federal involvement in the field inspection, but now the state departments of agriculture have signed MOU's with the USDA to allow the USDA to represent the industry better worldwide.

                             --By Duane (Sarge) Preston, professor emeritus, University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University; and Willem Schrage, North Dakota State Seed Department.

Photos: Courtesy of the University of Idaho Aberdeen Research & Extension Center.

 

Originally posted Tuesday, May. 22, 2012

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