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Potato store technology puts control in the hands of the grower

Ray Andrews, owner of Crop Systems Ltd (right) with Ali Cargill of Cargill Farms. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Ray Andrews, owner of Crop Systems Ltd (right) with Ali Cargill of Cargill Farms. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Archant Norfolk 2016

A Norfolk potato grower said a pioneering new storage technology can help reduce his energy costs – and meet the strict quality demands of the crisp manufacturer he supplies.

The new SmartStor controller, developed by Crop Systems, based in Gimingham near Mundesley, won a national certificate of merit for innovation at the LAMMA farm machinery show in January.

It continually monitors all aspects of the store, and gives users remote access to the control settings from a smart phone or computer, allowing them to react to faults and environmental factors, such as colder weather or a rise in carbon dioxide or humidity levels.

The first commercial installation of the prototype is being used at neighbouring Cargill Farms, which produces high-quality crisping potatoes for Norwich-based Kettle Foods.

Grower Ali Cargill said: “It is a great leap forward. 30 years ago there were 20,000 potato farmers, but now there are more like 2,000. That equation means there are more stores being run by fewer people, and they may be miles apart.

“You can either spend all your time on the road driving between stores, or you can rely on a system like this to monitor them from a smartphone, which will alert you if something is going wrong. You sleep a lot better at night, and it gives you the ability to monitor and control everything from fan speed to energy use. It is taking a huge lump of risk out of storing potatoes.”

Mr Cargill said two of the main benefits of the system were monitoring energy use and carbon dioxide levels – both vitally important to his customer.

“Because we are growing for a crisp manufacturer it is vital we keep the CO2 levels down, because it will affect the fry colour,” he said. “It is a very stringent set of parameters in storing potatoes for one of the most demanding contracts. So we have got to get it right.

“A build-up of CO2 will give us a huge problem, but with this system we can set the parameters of where the CO2 can get to, and then it reacts to that and works the louvre accordingly.

“Energy use is also a massive thing for us. It is a big cost and the ability to monitor your energy usage and work it down to an individual fan or louvre, or even down to the individual sensors on the crop, is really important.

Ray Andrews is managing director of Crop Systems, which specialises in the design and installation of storage controllers and equipment for the agricultural industry.

“People will think it is such a simple process to store potatoes, but it is not,” he said. “It is a huge risk. From Ali’s side, he has bought the seed and the fertiliser and he has harvested and stored the potatoes. He has spent all that money but until he sells those potatoes they are worth nothing.”

Working in partnership

The storage technologies at Cargill Farms are the result of collaboration between the store designer, the potato grower, and the crisp manufacturer.

The experimental potato store, built by Crop Systems in 2000, is a boxed fridge unit with four cells, each with a capacity of 364 tonnes. It is used as part of the farm’s work carrying out variety trials for Kettle Foods, with 21 varieties in the store.

Crop Systems, although an independent company, also has a close relationship with the grower, as it is a tenant of Cargill Farms.

Mr Cargill said: “We have worked with Ray (Andrews) for many, many years on storage technology and energy-saving systems, and how we can develop better technology and better storage methods. Because Ray is on the doorstep, we have the opportunity to chat regularly about what we want out of our storage as a grower, and go directly to a manufacturer and designer to say: ‘This is what we require’.

“And it is nice for him to have a prototype running that these us can go around the corner and see working on a commercial basis.

“It is really important to work together to help to develop these technologies.”

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