From potatoes to poplars, Todd County harvest swings into gear

With an expansion project complete, Tom Petron Potato Farm is well into its busiest days of harvest. This year, with an added 9,600 square feet of warehouse space, new offices, break room and a new bagging machine costing over $150,000, the farm is digging, washing, bagging and shipping an estimated 210 tons of red potatoes each day.

Digging starts early, at 2 or 3 a.m., in fields scattered across Todd County. Field trucks holding 13 to 14 tons of potatoes come in from the fields throughout the day. Unloaded into conveyors, the potatoes are washed, dried, culled, sorted, sized, bagged, boxed or put into one-ton totes, and stacked on pallets in the warehouse, usually for only a few hours. Semis arrive from early morning into the evening. Forklift drivers shift the pallets as necessary and load the pallets onto the semis, which take the potatoes across the nation, many on the same day they were dug from the ground.

The farm employs up to 90 workers during the harvest season. Older people mix with younger ones, Anglos and Hispanics all work together in the well orchestrated tempo of harvest. Barring rainy days that can muck up the digging, this harvest dance continues from mid-July to the end of September.

Harvest of oats, wheat, corn, soybeans, sunflowers, hay, straw, and poplar trees each requires specialized equipment (tractors alone can be an investment of $100,000 or more), manpower and storage. Breakdowns necessitate specialized repair people who can get the machines up and running quickly. Safety is always a concern, from fields to roads to warehouses and barns.

Owners and managers assess the workings of the harvest while it’s underway and after the flurry of activity ceases. How can it be done more efficiently? Is the space adequate for the job? Are the machines working as they should?

During the harvest and post-harvest clean-up, planning is already underway for next year providing ongoing economic stability for Todd County.

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