How Do Farmers Grow Potatoes: their machines

Have you ever wondered how do farmers grow potatoes? Many farms use the following equipment when growing their potatoes:

  1. A crop sprayer – used to protect the crop from diseases.
  2. A plough to begin field cultivations.
  3. A rotovator/rototiller used to make the soil fine before planting.
  4. A seed potato planting machine to position the seed into the drill/row or bed at a correct depth and spacing
  5. A potato harvester. Used to dig the potatoes from the field and separate the soil and potato tops – leaving only the clean potatoes.
  6. A trailer/s – which either takes the potatoes away in boxes or in bulk.
  7. Several agricultural farm tractors to carry out these tasks.

Potato production must have the highest machinery demand out of all the different farming enterprises. Visit a field being planted in potatoes and count the number of tractors. I bet there will be nearly ten in that field at one time. The same is true at harvesting time.

For smaller scale potato growers there will be less machinery but it will still involve two or three tractors at one time.

As i grew potatoes commercially i will use some of the images i have of machinery i used. This is small scale, old equipment.

Modern day potato equipment costs hundreds of thousands of pounds/ dollars and is a major investment. This is usually built up over lifetimes of farmers within the same family.

How to grow potatoes

Before i begin this article in detail, I want to tell you about a great article i wrote. How to grow your own potatoes at home. This covers everything from planting, preparing seed, growing, harvesting and storage and more about this great vegetable.

The crop sprayer

a crop sprayer pulled with a tractor spraying a field of potatoes
This is a modern trailed crop sprayer- spraying drill of potatoes. The booms (red arms to the side) allows the farmer to cover a large area of the field in one pass.

The sprayer will be used to spray the field to kill weeds before ploughing. It will used again at pre emergence stage to kill weeds before the potato plants come through the drills.

When the potato plants get larger and the threat of potato blight is present the farmer will spray the crop almost every week to protect it.

Crop sprayers have a tank which holds the liquid spray. This is water which is mixed at a correct ratio with whichever chemicals required.

The spray travels out booms which are the arms out to the side of the tank. These booms have nozzles on them at defined distances apart to distribute the spray evenly across the field.

The plough

A tractor with a plough on behind in a field
This is an image of a three furrow reversible plough i used. The three mouldboards are the shiny parts which turn the soil over.

A plough is the first stage of the soil cultivation. The boards of the plough are set usually at least 8″ deep into the field to create a deep furrow for the rotovator to till.

The rotovator

a tractor powered Howard rotovator
This a Howard 90″ rotovator showing the steel blades underneath which break up the soil.

The rotovator is used to break up the ploughed soil into a fine tilth. This is an old rotovator i used many years ago- modern tillers are much wider. The smaller walk behind tillers work in a similar way.

The tractor doing this job will travel very slowly so that the soil is finely tilled by the blades which spin round at high speeds. The potato planter will plant directly into the tilled soil.

a howard 90" rotovator
This rotovator has a crumbler roller on the back which is used to set the depth at which the rotovator is lowered into the soil.

The potato planter

a farmers Ransomes Faun 2 row potato planter machine
This a Ransoms Faun automatic potato planter which places fertilizer and seed into the drill

This an old automatic planter i had made by a company in the UK called Ransomes in the 1970’s. This planter has two fertilizer bins at the front which you filled with 50kg bags of fertilizer. The seed potatoes were filled into the bin at the back.

The fertilizer was put into the drill first- a calibrated dose. Then the seed potatoes were placed and the drill was covered by three drill ploughs. These form two drills at a time. These sat in a line behind the wheels of the planter.

The potato harvester

Trailed two row harvester

a Standen statesman two row potato harvester
Standen two row potato harvester

The image above shows a two row (two drill) potato harvester i owned made by Standen UK in the 1990’s.

A potato harvester works by having a share /fixed spade section at the front. This digs into the soil below the level of the potatoes in the drill.

As the harvester moves forward the soil and potatoes are transferred onto a web. This web is made up of a series of round bars at an equal space apart. These bars are 20-50 millimeters apart and are joined together at the sides and centre by a rubber/woven belt.

The web travels up towards the back of the machine carrying and sieving the soil from the potatoes. It returns back down to the front underneath the harvester continually at a speed chosen by the harvester operator.

As fresh soil and potatoes is transferred onto it, this has the action of sieving the potatoes and leaves (haulm) through the web.

the web on a 2 row potato harvester
The web of the potato harvester. This sieves out the soil, leaving the potatoes behind.

After this separation takes place there should be a clean sample of potatoes at the end of the harvester. These are transferred into boxes on a flat trailer or straight into a bulk trailer, depending on the preference of the farmer.

Trailed single row potato harvester

a grimme cadet single row potato harvester
“Grimme Cadet” single row potato harvester

The image above shows a Grimme Cadet single row potato harvester i owned, which was made in the 1980’s.

This is also a trailed harvester, meaning its weight is supported by its own wheels. The potato drill goes into the harvester at the front near where it is hooked on. The drill travels up a rotating web towards the rear of the machine.

At this point the potatoes drop down into the large round wheel made up of separate baskets/ buckets. The wheel turns around clockwise which brings the potatoes to the top where they fall downwards onto a rubber belt separator. This helps to further remove soil and haulm.

a grimme potato harvester web
Showing the rubber belt separator at the rear of the harvester under the baskets of the round wheel and the picking table web to the front.

Finally the potatoes travel along a picking web which travels slowly. This gives operators/pickers a chance to remove any remaining pieces of soil, stones or haulm.

Mounted single row potato harvester

a superfaun potato harvester
Underhaug Superfaun potato harvester

The above image is a of a mounted single row potato harvester i owned. It was made by Underhaug known as a Superfaun.

The major advantage of this harvester is that it is mounted onto the linkage arms of the tractor. This means that if you come across poor soil conditions you could raise the harvester up and carry on through the bad patch.

It also has an advantage on slopes as it is very difficult to pull a heavy trailed harvester up a hill if the soil conditions are wet or sticky.

I was able to harvest potatoes on the 10th December in 2012 on a slight gradient field in good conditions using this harvester. Have a look a the video here

Having a mounted harvester like this can make the difference between getting your crop out of the field or leaving it behind to rot.

6 Comments
  1. As a beginner in potato farming i find this very informative. Thanks for sharing.

  2. do you chit potatoes before planting,f so how can you chit so many?

    • Hello John, the seed potatoes are allowed to form small buds as they sit inside the ton boxes which we then put into our potato planter. Thank you, Richard.

  3. We are looking to buy a house at the end of a small, maybe 50-100 acre, potato field. I am wondering how noisy it will be. Will we hear machinery every day, a couple times a week? Will there be a lot of bad odor from the herbacides and pesticides often or every once in a while?

    • Hello Rebecca, I dont think it will be a problem – usually a field is only in potatoes every 5 years minimum and all the work done in the field will be done as fast as possible – harvesting should only last a week or two in October. Maybe ask a neighbour who lives nearby for more accurate information. Thank you, Richard.

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