Now that harvest is well under way, it’s time to start looking toward our packaging facilities. At Wysocki Produce Farm, that means working side-by-side with our sister company and packaging facility, Paragon Potato Farms (Paragon). However, moving our focus to packaging doesn’t mean we don’t need to keep thinking about our impact on the environment.
Potatoes are brought into our facility using an underground flume (think of it as a waterslide for potatoes). Within packaging facilities, flumes filled with water are used to move the potatoes from one destination to another, instead of direct handling. Our closed flume system reuses the water to run the flume system to reduce the amount of water needed.
Our potatoes go through sorting both by machine and by hand. Grading is the process that looks at the physical imperfections of potatoes, such as knobs, cuts and bruises and separate potatoes into grades. No. 1 potatoes head to grocery store shelves while No. 2 potatoes, which aren’t as visually appealing as No. 1 potatoes, still taste just as good and are used for cooking and processing. The machinery can sort potatoes so when our employees grade, 85 percent of the potatoes are already No. 1 potatoes. Once we only have our best potatoes, we take them to a sizing machine, which separates potatoes by size, whether we’re dealing with bite-sized potatoes or large russet baking potatoes.
After the potatoes have been sorted, they are inspected by our quality assurance team before proceeding to the bagging area. In our bagging area, we can pack any size from a 2.2-pound bag to a 20-pound bag. Once a bag is filled, we transport it over to a digital scale to make sure it’s the right weight. After packaging we use pallets using a pallet former with an adjustable platform height so our employees’ work is ergonomically correct. With that commitment to safety in mind, our forklift traffic is separated from our employees by automated conveyor belts that move the pallets.
To increase our efficiency in product handling, much of our machinery is custom-made, so our equipment is developed and built to reduce the amount of direct handling and bruising of the potatoes. For example, we are currently developing and looking to shortly implement a sand and debris separator, which will allow us to send less water out with the dirt we wash off the potatoes after harvesting. Improving, updating and maintaining these systems is an ongoing project.
One of our latest efforts has both efficiency and the environment in mind. We have been eliminating unnecessary internal flumes to conserve water and make sure our potatoes are taking the most direct route through our facility. Packaging facilities need to be aware of this, since conserving water is a win-win situation for both our operations and environmental impact.
As technology continues to evolve, we’re excited to see how we can continue to improve the efficiency of our packaging facilities and be more environmentally-friendly. There are many small adjustments your local potato farmers make to decrease their environmental footprint while continuing to send the highest quality produce to dinner tables all over the state.