Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 12:00 PM
John O'Connell/Capital Press
Brock Driscoll checks moisture levels in his field in Chubbuck, Idaho, Sept. 11 while Dakota Albertson operates the farm's new toy Ñ the only self-propelled Tectron harvester, by Grimme, in the U.S.
19-year-old farm hand trained in Germany to operate harvester
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Throughout the day, farmers driving on state Highway 39 near Aberdeen, Idaho, pulled over to watch Dakota Albertson harvest potatoes using a unique new machine.
The Driscoll Brothers farm purchased the nation's only self-propelled Tectron harvester, designed by the German company Grimme, to better capture tiny specialty spuds without collecting too much dirt. It arrived in southeast Idaho on Aug. 27.
"It's a whole new machine to everybody," Albertson said. "Some stop and watch it on the side of the road. Some people want to get under it and see how it's doing what it's doing."
At 19 years old, Albertson is the only U.S. farm hand qualified to program and operate the Tectron. Though he'd never been at the helm of a harvester before, the Driscolls considered him to be the ideal candidate to run it.
"They didn't want (the driver to have) any preconceived concepts of a North American harvester," Albertson said.
Joined by Denver Driscoll, Albertson trained in Germany how to maintain, adjust and operate the machine, which has been used in Europe and Canada for about four years.
Albertson has found it can "turn on a dime." Three chain webs with narrow links capture spuds of less than an inch in diameter. The excess dirt is shed by running the potatoes through four rubber corkscrew-shaped rollers, called a "Multi-Sep." Potato vines are severed and dispensed from a side blower.
The harvester can store 14 metric tons of spuds, so Albertson never has to stop and wait for an empty semi-truck. Its blade is self-adjusting, and its hydraulic system facilitates adjustments on the fly.
Last season, the Driscolls used three harvesters, each operating at 1 mph, missing many more specialty spuds and picking up about twice as much dirt. They've averaged 2.4 mph with the Tectron.
Albertson said they now require about half the number of truck drivers and cellar crew. They'll also use the harvester for their Russets.
The tradeoff is the cost, between $600,000 and $700,000.
"You've got to look at all of your savings with your cellar crew and truck drivers, the less equipment you use, the time -- there's a lot of things this one machine will save you on," Albertson said.
Andrew Blight, who works in sales support for Spudnik, a Blackfoot, Idaho, company owned by Grimme, noted the U.S. specialty potato market is growing.
"Going forward, we think we'll see more opportunities for this type of machine in the U.S. Certainly this machine is creating a lot of dialogue here in southeast Idaho," Blight said.
Robert Tominaga, who raises fingerlings at Southwind Farms in Heyburn, Idaho, has seen video of the self-propelled Tectron.
"Other than it costs a ton of money, I think it's a pretty nice harvester," Tominaga said.
His farm uses tractor-pulled Grimme harvesters that also incorporate the Multi-Sep cleaning technology.