Mechanical Potato Pickers

by A. A. Stone and Eric Patterson

Editor's note: This article describes some of the old time tools of potato harvesting. Looking back is a way of looking ahead for small farmers who recognize the value of old tools and can put them to work in a modernized way.

Before many years, the job of picking potatoes will be entirely a machine operation. Hand labor has been eliminated in nearly all of the other operations necessary to potato growing, and machines are even now on the market that eliminate the laborious job of hand picking.

Two types of mechanical potato pickers were used at the New York State Institute of Applied Agriculture at Farmingdaie in 1929. These were picking machines only and had no sorting or grading attachment Each of these machines employs a different principle.

In one, the potatoes are carried upward on the picker-elevator and emptied into bags at the rear of the elevator. While passing up the elevator, men on both side platforms must discard the vines, trash, and stones to prevent them from being bagged with the potatoes. The successful operation of this machine requires thorough separation at the digger, so that the load falling on the picker-elevator is reasonably clean. For best results, it should be used with a power-driven digger having a seven-foot main elevator, and either the usual vine turner and shaker or an extension elevator in the rear of the main elevator.

The other type was used for digging the entire crop on the Institute farm. The trash and vines are carried directly over the rear of the picker-elevator and dropped to the ground. The potatoes are picked off the long elevator by hand and placed in small conveyors at either side of the rear platform. Each side conveyor delivers through a two-way chute, permitting four bags to be carried.

The digger-elevator delivers its load directly to the main elevator of the picker. No vine turner or extension elevator is used on the digger. It was found that having a man on the digger to throw off the heaviest part of the vines and trash greatly lessened the work of the men on the picker.

No attempt was made to keep accurate figures showing the labor-saving or timesaving value of the machine, as the chief interest was in testing it from a mechanical standpoint. Various observers agreed, however, that it reduced the time usually required by 30 to 50 percent. The use of the picker made continuous digging possible, whereas with handpicking methods, the digging proceeds sc much faster than the picking that the digger is kept idle much of the time waiting for the pickers to catch up. Digging proceeded at the rate of about two hours per acre.

There was an indication that some potatoes were bruised in passing over the picker. It was difficult to determine just where this bruising occurred, but it seemed to be on the main elevator of

* Reprinted with permission from Agricultural Engineering, September 1930.

the picker, as potatoes passing up this elevator would occasionally be jostled, due to uneven ground, and would roll down the elevator, striking the bottom with sufficient force to cause the bruising. It was also noted that quite a number of small potatoes were left on the ground. These were believed to have sifted through the Iir.ks of the digger-elevator. This was not considered a serious fault, as many growers prefer to leave such small potatoes in the field.

A tractor with a slow forward speed is necessary to use this picker. First or low speed was found to give the best results, it was necessary to idle down the tractor motor considerably in order to reduce the forward speed sufficiently. Where a ┬┐ruction type of digger is used, this reduction in forward speed would, in ordinary years, cause poor separation at the digger, but this year it made little difference. Probably an engine-driven or a power take-oft-driven diggt; would be better than a traction digger for use with a potato picker.

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