13 November 1998

Potato harvester has gentle touch to protect Royals

By Andy Collings

ITS not about output, its about achieving a good quality sample, insists Mark Rive. Based at Le Sommet, Jersey – the home of the Jersey Royal potato – Mr Rive has designed and built a potato harvester which he believes is able to treat potatoes more gently than many other machines.

"We have a unique situation in Jersey," he says. "Royals are almost the only potato grown and, being a delicate type, require gentler handling than perhaps other varieties – if quality is to be maintained."

The other important issue concerns the exacting demands of purchasing supermarkets which insist on a damage-free, clean, attractive product. The penalty for falling short of such standards can be an expensive rejection.

Starting afresh from the ground up, Mr Rive designed his two-row harvester with primary and secondary webs angled less steeply than normal. When the potatoes reach the end of the webs they enter an elevator to place them onto a picking conveyor. After sorting, they continue to the front of the machine where they are stored in one tonne boxes.

"An important feature of the harvester is the large picking area," says Mr Rive. "When its necessary, we can get as many as 11 people on the machine to sort out the crop before it enters the boxes. This ensures we can maintain a high standard of produce."

An ability to have a high number of sorters also ensures the harvester can maintain a reasonable forward speed – if it is forced to slow down, less soil is taken in with the potatoes and bruising can occur on the webs.

Drives to the harvesters primary and secondary webs are mechanical – from the towing tractors pto, with other drives hydrostatic. Mr Rive also took the limited road widths in Jersey into consideration when designing his harvester, which has a transport width of just 2.25m (7ft 6in).

With about 36ha (90 acres) under its belt, the consensus is that the harvester is just about right.

"The only detail we might add to it is a collection box for the green or damaged potatoes picked off – at the moment they are returned to the field," he says.

Future plans are to manufacture and market the harvester with Mr Rive believing there could be a demand for it in other early potato growing areas. &#42

Mark Rives potato harvester – designed to lift Jersey Royals more gently. Note the shallow angle of the primary and secondary webs and the long sorting table which can accomodate up to 11 people.