Successful storage begins in the field, so a good start is the key to long-term storage. Proper irrigation and nitrogen application can go a long way towards preserving the crop. Stress during the growing season can cause disease, sugar accumulation, reduced specific gravity and reduced storage duration.
Screening for diseases and insects in the field, combined with proper care and timely application of pesticides, will help to reduce the likelihood of problems during harvest or storage. By the end of the season, you will already have an idea of what crops will be put into storage. This will help make it easier to manage the storage facility or at least reduce the likelihood of unpleasant surprises.
The first step in preparing the storage area for the harvest involves cleaning it. To clean the storage room and meet food safety requirements, all plants, debris and unnecessary material should be removed from the storage room. Then check the storage room for any repairs that might be necessary, such as loose insulation, cracked metal or broken wood.
Cleaning and disinfecting the storage area will help minimize the transfer of diseases from one storage season to the next, so it is imperative to thoroughly clean the entire storage area, including the walls, beams, floors, pipes, ventilation and humidification systems. Wash all components of the storage area thoroughly with detergent and hot water (or steam using a high-pressure sprayer) and then rinse. Afterwards, apply the disinfectant and leave it on the surfaces for 10-15 minutes for best effect. The storage unit is closed for 2 weeks and then opened again to air out and dry.
If there is a perennial problem with silver scab, proper cleaning of the storage area and application of an appropriate disinfectant will help to reduce the survival rate of the pathogen from the previous storage season. Studies have shown that silver scab can survive on Styrofoam and soil floors for up to 9 months and on metal sheets for up to 3 months. So check the label of the disinfectant to make sure it is suitable for your storage area.
Here is a quick checklist of general storage management basics:
1. Repair all insulation materials to minimise the possibility of condensation.
2. Thoroughly clean all air duct openings.
3. Remove all foreign material from the storage unit (adhesive tape, peeling insulation, wood, etc.).
4. Replace worn out humidification equipment and high pressure nozzles.
5. Check for corrosion on all surfaces that may limit the life of the storage unit.
6. Service the ventilation system and check that all fans are properly balanced. Check the air supply system by adjusting all ducts for optimum and consistent flow.
7. Repair or replace worn components in the air inlets.
8. Calibrate all computerised sensors used for control functions.
9. Carry out maintenance on the nozzles that are responsible for relative humidity in the storage room. Check for mineral deposits and clear any blockages.
10. Run the storage room for conditioning before delivery of the crop.
11. Be aware of the quality of the incoming batch of potatoes and the potential problems that may occur during storage. Protecting the quality of the stored crop is the goal of all storage management.
12. Seal all duct seams to improve the performance of the system. Open seams reduce the consistency of the air supply.
13. Harvesting and handling operations must be carried out in such a way as to ensure that at least 75% of the potatoes are intact for both short- and long-term storage.
14. Preferably harvest when the tuber temperature is no higher than 7°C. If possible, suspend harvesting until the potatoes in the field reach this temperature.
15. Limit the height of the potato mound to 4-5 metres to minimise pressure damage (may depend on the variety).
16. Turn on the ventilation and humidification systems as soon as the first few ducts are closed. This will help to eliminate the difference in pulp temperature.
17. Removing clumps of dirt and other debris from the incoming crop is important to achieve optimum air circulation efficiency in the mechanical system.
18. Fill each storage area with potatoes intended for similar end use. Close the stores immediately after filling so that temperature equilibrium is quickly reached in the mound.
19. Maintain a static tuber temperature of at least 7°C for two to three weeks for proper curing. During this period, it is advisable to maintain a relative humidity = 95%.
20. Slowly, by about 2-3 degrees per week, reduce the pulp temperature to the recommended storage temperature, depending on the variety and further purpose of the potatoes.
21. Continue to monitor the storage area daily to ensure smooth operation and to detect possible problems with the potatoes.
22. Monitor sprouting, select different types of inhibitor for different varieties.
23. Ensure that air is supplied to the storage room during unloading to minimise quality loss. Remember that proper management of the storage facility during unloading involves adjusting the air flow to maintain a constant supply to all parts of the remaining bulk.
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