Crop store designer pioneers project to improve airflow in potato sheds

Richard Cook, a director of Crop Systems, in a potato store

Richard Cook, a director of Crop Systems, in a potato store - Credit: Submitted

A Norfolk crop store designer has launched two years of research aiming to even out the airflow in potato sheds – claiming it could save the industry £50m a year.

Crop Systems, based in Gimingham near Mundesley, is the lead partner in an £800,000 project which is 70pc funded by government agency Innovate UK.

It will use aeronautic industry technology to develop testing tools which will help optimise the efficiency of storage buildings.

Among the other partners is Cranfield University, which is carrying out computer simulations and modelling which will identify the reasons for poor airflow – one of the major reasons for potato quality problems and crop losses.

Managing director Ray Andrews said: 'Airflow is the single most important thing if you want to keep potatoes.

'The supermarkets demand quality but the bottom line is that potatoes are big bags of water that go rotten very easily, or they can sprout or shrink, and the consumers don't want that.

'They want perfect potatoes on the shelf, but it is important for them to realise that they are lifted out of the ground in September and October, and they will still be in stores next June and July. A lot of people would be amazed that we are storing potatoes for so long. But to do that, the airflow needs to be right.

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'So we started playing with the airflow simulations, like they would do with a Formula One car. The idea is we can take a poor store and run it on a computer simulation to see where the problems are, and then manipulate the problems in the computer to make that store work.

'But then we need to put that information into action to see if it works in real time.'

Two identical stores at Branston, near Lincoln, are being modelled as part of the trial. One will be manipulated to optimise the airflow, whether by moving boxes, adding partitions, or changing the use of fans, vents and ducts. The other will be left unchanged to monitor the effectiveness of the measures.

Poor air distribution also risks inefficient use of chlorpropham (known as CIPC), a chemical which inhibits sprouting in stored potatoes.

Mr Andrews said: 'When the savings in energy and CIPC – allied to the reductions in crop wastage – are added up, we believe there is potential to save the industry £50m a year.'