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A Shropshire potato grower is reaping the rewards after building his own on-farm store for the crop – rather than sending it direct from... Storage facility maintains crop quality throughout season

A Shropshire potato grower is reaping the rewards after building his own on-farm store for the crop – rather than sending it direct from field to processor.

Ollie Bright, of Montford Farm, Shrewsbury, said he traditionally sent his crop to McCains straight after harvest. But the company persuaded him that storage would be a major advantage – and their advice had turned out to be the right move.

The family grows a range of varieties on sandy loam soils, all irrigated. Some 2,500 tonnes of Maris Piper are now stored in the new facility, with varieties like Premier, Royal and Maureen being sold from the field.

Mr Bright did his dissertation on potato storage while at Harper Adams University. Visits to two stores built by Norfolk-based Crop Systems helped him decide they were the company to develop and construct his own on-farm potato store.

“We visited two other stores that Crop Systems had built,” explains Mr Bright. “What impressed us most was the quality of the build and equipment. Everything was correct – right down to the fine details.”

Bulk storage

The family decided to build a TaperStor – a bulk store featuring tapering tunnels and ducts which ensure even air-flow and pressure right across the building. Mr Bright checked the airflow with a flow meter.

The store’s design includes a gap between the outer concrete wall and the store’s insulated panels. This gap is managed with fans and heater elements to ensure a consistent temperature to eliminate condensation risks.

A SmartStor controller was installed to monitor and manage the store remotely. It includes sending automatic alerts if anything malfunctions or CO2 levels, humidity, water vapour or temperatures exceed pre-set levels.

The new store has done all he wanted and more, says Mr Bright. “We had never previously stored potatoes past November. One contractor suggested the new store might be able to store them until May.”

The first load of potatoes came into the store during the very wet autumn of 2019. But the store still managed to dry and cure them effectively. The last potatoes were loaded out of the store in July 2020 – and the fry quality was still excellent.

Excellent airflow

“We had to blow the potatoes hard to dry them, but the humidification system ensured they stored well,” says Mr Bright. “This year has been much easier. We haven’t had to use the fans nearly as much.

“The fridge and the airflow are both excellent. We only ever have a temperature difference of 0.2-0.3ºC from one end of the store to the other. The humidifier provides free extra cooling and helps maintain the quality of the crop while it is in storage.”

The store brought the crop down to 8ºC efficiently in the autumn. It later reduced that to 7.5ºC for longer term storage.

Mr Bright credits the SmartStor controller for his crop quality. It offers the ability to fix a different set point for every day during the process, enabling him to programme temperature reduction accurately.

The family decided to avoid CIPC as a sprouting suppressant because – although it was allowed in the first winter – it could remain in concrete for up to 20 years, and they didn’t want to contaminate subsequent crops.

Viable option

“The advice we received from merchants and from Crop Systems was to switch to ethylene as this was the only viable option at the time,” says Mr Bright. “We effectively got ahead of the law change.”

This meant the farm business was a year ahead of everyone else in coping with lfie after BIPC. “The 2020 crop was loaded into the store in a couple of weeks and looks fantastic. We are confident that we will be able to store it until July.”

The SmartStor adds an extra level of confidence and peace of mind, says Mr Bright. “Any one of us can check the store whenever we want to and instantly see what is happening. We also receive regular updates.”