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Harvest under way; Frost helps effort to get Basin potatoes picked
By Ryan Pfeil, Herald & News 10/4/07


H&N video online: To see footage of the potato harvest, check out the Herald and News Web site. Go to www.heraldandnews.com and click on local videos on the left side of the home page, or HERE> Video of 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 efficient 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.


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