Evolution of the harvester

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Maine grower family reminisce about the changes seen on their potato farm over past 50 years.

THE potato harvester has evolved over several decades, becoming more efficient and significantly increasing the amount of potatoes farmers can harvest in a day.

One former US grower, Judd Hemphill, who previously owned Hemphill Farms in Maine, USA, before handing the reins to his son and grandsons, recently shared annectdotes with a local news source, about the changes he'd witnessed since the 1970s.

Judd took over his father’s farm 48 years ago, and retired in 2011. He said the harvesting equipment was quite primitive compared to today.

“When I was young, our first harvester was a one row barrel. You didn’t get a lot done in a day. Probably not as much as a picking crew. You put the barrels on the end of the field, and then when dad turned, I had a platform, I’d throw barrels on the platform, enough to do me down the field, barrels at the other end, put your empties on and dig back up,” he recently told WAGM.

His son, Greg Hemphill, now owns and runs the farm along with his four sons. Even though eldest son, Garrett, wasn’t around during the era of the barrel harvester, he too has witnessed the evolution of the harvester.

“Every day there would be a breakdown and it didn’t handle the capacity. You had to have three or four people work on it and even then the loads were still quite dirty with stones and debris,” he said.

Today’s harvesters have been designed to better handle the stone and debris. Ryan Pelkey, Manager of Spudnik’s Presque Isle store, says this makes all the difference. With over 60 years of experience in the potato industry Spudnik has developed machines for each phase of production and transportation.

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“The rocks are so little compared to what it used to be. I mean people are dumping one dump truck a day, compared to they used to dump multiple, so it’s a huge difference in the house,” Ryan told the news source.

Rocks and debris are now separated with air by today's harvesters, making for cleaner loads at the potato house.

The evolution of the potato harvester has changed the way farmers harvest their potatoes today. Cleaner loads, less bruising and fewer workers are all the results of improvements made over several decades. Hemphill's now has two six-row windrowers and a three-row harvester and, depending on conditions, can go from 70 to 90 acres a day.

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