All of our potato plants at Heartland Farms are started with seed potatoes. We only buy seed potatoes from licensed and registered seed farms within the United States, with the majority coming from local farms in Wisconsin.
Once we receive the seed from the seed farm, it is stored at our main farm to await cutting. The seed potatoes are generally cut in half, or thirds depending on the size of the seed. This is done to get as much out of each seed potato as possible and eliminate waste. After the seed potatoes are cut, they are ready to be brought to the fields for planting.
Heartland Farms plants many different varieties of potatoes each year. These varieties include fresh market potatoes such as Goldrush, Norkotahs and Norlands and chipping potatoes such Pikes, Snowdens and special proprietary types for specific customers.
Each potato variety has different characteristics such as size, growing season length and required nutrients. All of these characteristics and more are taken into consideration while planting. For example, those varieties with a longer growing season are planted first and each variety is planted at a different depth based upon industry and independent Heartland Farms research.
The planters used at Heartland Farms are state of the art and equipped with all of the latest technology. Each planter is equipped with a precision GPS unit allowing for straight rows and maximizing the area used of each field to be planted.
The growing season for each spud starts when the seed potato is planted in the ground. Each variety has a different length growing season, but in general in Wisconsin, this lasts from April until late July-October.
During the growing season, a technique called “hilling” is implemented. Hilling mounds the ground around the planted rows of potatoes. This gives the plant more room to grow within the hill. Hilling is done twice throughout the beginning of the growing season; once a few weeks after planting and then once more approximately a month later.
Throughout the entire growing season, Heartland Farms and independent consultants regularly check each field to monitor growth progress, look for any pest issues, take soil moisture readings, take petiole (leaf) samples and many more things. Each field is monitored in person to ensure the best potatoes possible are produced. When necessary, precision irrigation systems are run on the fields. Most fields planted by Heartland Farms are equipped with telemetry. Telemetry allows each irrigation system to be monitored and controlled remotely by select computers at the farm. This system allows for more controllability, monitoring and water conservation.
At the end of the growing season, when the spuds have reached their perfect maturity, harvest begins. Many factors are monitored during harvest season to ensure the potatoes are only harvested during good conditions. Soil moisture is watched before and during harvest to check that moistures are within an acceptable range to help reduce bruising of the potatoes. Temperatures of the soil and the spuds themselves are checked throughout the harvest season. The potatoes have to be under certain temperatures for them to be able to be put into storage bins. Because the potatoes can only be harvested under a certain temperature, night time harvesting is sometimes necessary. If the potatoes are too warm while being put into storage, they can break down and cause the entire bin to be lost.
At Heartland Farms, specialized harvesters are used to harvest all of the potatoes. These specialized harvesters are equipped with precision GPS units and special equipment that only pulls spuds out of the ground. Pulling only spuds from the ground allows for rocks to be left behind in the field along with the soil and plant vines. Once the potatoes are dug from the ground, they are put in rows and then loaded onto specialty trucks and brought back to the farm. The movable booms on the harvesters load the spuds onto the trucks. The trucks have sides that fold down reducing the distance that the spuds have to drop into the bed of the truck. This reduces the amount of bruising and aids in treating the potatoes like babies.
All of the potatoes are shipped from the fields to the main farm location in Hancock, WI for inspection and sorting before being put into storage bins or being shipped directly to our customers. During this process, any rocks that slipped past the harvester are sorted out and any imperfect potatoes are separated and sent back to the field to be spread for nutrients or shipped to local cattle farms for feed. After this inspection process, the potatoes are ready to be put into our state of the art, climate controlled storage bins.
Our storage bins are designed to be able to provide potatoes year round. Each bin is constructed with an envelope design. This is essentially a building within a building. Moisture is one of the worst enemies of potatoes and this building design keeps any moisture, like condensation, away from the potatoes. These bins are constantly monitored on a high tech computer system.
If any of the monitored levels go out of their acceptable range, a page is sent to key employees to ensure the problem is fixed immediately. Along with the electronic monitoring, samples of potatoes are constantly randomly taken from the bins to guarantee quality. This system allows our potatoes to sit happy until they are shipped to our customers.
All potatoes leaving the facility are graded and washed prior to shipping to our customers. After leaving our facility, the potatoes are sent on their way to the fresh market or to be made into potato chips.