In May we were able to watch the potato planting , and in August, the harvesting. Now it is time for packaging. We toured the Huntsinger Farms Pack House which is operated by John, Neil, and Steve Terwillinger. Huntsinger Farms was started in 1921 by the brothers' grandfather and included a pack house. The current facility was built in 2001 and uses cutting-edge technology. It operates one shift a day, year-round packing potatoes from Huntsinger Farms potato fields in Pennsylvania and New York, as well as, from other farms including in Florida and Canada. High-quality standards are followed and the facility is Safe Quality Foods (SQF) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified. John provided us access to the facility and answered our questions.
Potatoes are stored in the dark at 40°F with near 100% humidity in wooden bins each holding 1000 lbs. Storing this way provides good air circulation around the potatoes and maintains tuber quality. As potatoes are needed for market, bins are loaded into a washer. Potatoes come into storage pretty clean, washing removes any soil that remains.
Potatoes in wooden bins in dark storage. Photo: Tom Butzler, Penn State Extension
Potatoes going through the washer. Photo: Tom Butzler, Penn State Extension
Just washed potatoes. Photo: Bill Lamont, Penn State Extension
Once washed, potatoes pass through an optical grader to determine quality. They are guided into single lines on a conveyor belt before rolling through a tunnel with overhead cameras. Cameras are set to specifications determined by the operator, in this case, John. Grading scales are set for size, scurf, growth cracks, green color, browning and yellowing, etc. to meet the criteria for quality that markets demand. In this system, every potato is given a score and those not meeting a minimum value are dropped out of the conveyer belt. These potatoes will be used as feed for cattle.
Potatoes lined up singly, ready to go through the optical grader. Photo: Tom Butzler, Penn State Extension
Monitor for the optical grader. Green bars indicate that the potato has met or exceeded minimum grading standards. Photo: Elsa Sánchez, Penn State Extension
Potatoes exiting the optical grader. Photo: Tom Butzler, Penn State Extension
Potatoes that make the grade move on to another conveyor belt where a team of 4 people sorts out low-quality potatoes that escaped optical grading.
Potatoes go through a final quality sorting by hand. Photo: Tom Butzler, Penn State Extension
From there, potatoes are sent to be weighed and bagged. While we were there, 10-pound bags of red potatoes were being packaged. Potatoes are lined up in several lanes and weighed. A computer determines the combination of lanes that result in 10 pounds without going under. Potatoes from those lanes are dropped onto a ramp and guided into a paper bag that is sewed closed.
Potatoes lined up and weighed for packaging. Note all the channels are closed. Photo: Bill Lamont, Penn State Extension
Ten pounds of potatoes dropped for packaging. Note the 5 open channels. Photo: Elsa Sánchez, Penn State Extension
Bags ready for packaging potatoes. Photo: Tom Butzler, Penn State Extension
Once a minimum of 10 pounds of potatoes is placed in a bag, it is sealed shut. Photo: Tom Butzler, Penn State Extension
Bags are placed on pallets in quantities to meet consumer needs. They are then shrink-wrapped and labeled.
Ten-pound bags of potatoes ready to be shrink-wrapped. Photo: Tom Butzler, Penn State Extension
Double pallet of potatoes being shrink wrapped. Photo: Elsa Sánchez, Penn State Extension
Red skin with white flesh, yellow fleshed, and white skin with white flesh potatoes are packaged by various sizes and into various sized bags. We saw the Baby Reds and Petitetoes packaged, in addition to the 10-pound bags.
John says that the biggest change he has seen in potato packing is an increase in technology and machinery. This use of technology allows for 16 year-round employees to package potatoes from roughly 700 to 800 acres annually and manage the 350-acre farm.
Thank you to John, Steve, and Neil. We enjoyed seeing potatoes going through the entire planting to packing chain.
Huntsinger Farm Inc., 211 E. Mountain Road, Heggins, PA 17938