Harvest under way;
Frost helps effort to get Basin potatoes picked
Pfeil, Herald & News 10/4/07
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Tulelake potato harvest, Herald and News 10/4/07, YouTube
Josh Cox, 25, pulls rocks and mud from the field bulker as
potatoes are transferred to a truck for Woodman Farms in
Tulelake on Wednesday. The potato harvest lasts about 10 days,
usually beginning the last week in September.
TULELAKE — The Staunton brothers of Staunton
Potatoes joined other Klamath Basin potato farmers
Wednesday, spending the day harvesting spuds.
From soil to market, the harvesting process seems
almost mechanical, a well-rehearsed routine.
“[In] most of the fields this year, we got what we
called a killing frost,” said Sid Staunton, a
third-generation farmer. “It gets cold enough that it just
takes the green vigor right out of the vine.”
In the absence of a freeze, farmers use
chemicals to kill above ground vines. A frost is often
preferred; it checks
the box on one of several steps. This year was a little more
than last year. “When we wanted the potatoes to go ahead and
finish, we didn’t get any frost,” Ed Staunton said of
previous harvests. “We had to come in and use chemicals; now
it’s gone the other way.”
There is a waiting period following the death of
the vines, usually lasting 18-21 days. It gives the skin on
the potatoes a chance to set. A mature skin feels tough, and
has a slimmer chance of rubbing off during harvesting.
The past two years have been profitable for the
Staunton operation. This one looks like it will be, too.
Three good years in a row in t he potato business is almost
unheard of, said Ed Staunton, who also is the chairman of
the United Potato Growers of the Klamath Basin.
“In the potato industry, you very seldom have two
good years in a row,” he said. “To have three in a row,
well, I don’t know if it’s ever happened.”
During a harvest, harvesters slice through the
dead braids of vines and pull the crop out of the ground. In
a sieve-like action, the dirt granules
are filtered out. The potatoes ride up a belt into a large
trailer truck that runs parallel to the harvester on the
fields. Most harvesters are able to dig three or four rows
at a time.
Following harvest , trucks transport the crop
to a filtering station. Here, bruised and poor-quality
potatoes are discarded.
“We want to have as good a quality as we can,” Ed
Staunton said. “Quality is number one.”
The remaining potatoes are piled high like stairs
in a nearby warehouse. They are stored here from November
until as late as mid-July, kept moist and cool so they can
be marketed year round.
“Once you control the supply a little bit more,
you start seeing profitability,” Ed Staunton said.
A truck drives slowly alongside a tractor pulling a field
bulker that picks up the potatoes and transfers the harvest
into the truck through a series of conveyer belts at a
Woodman Farms potato field in Tulelake on Wednesday.