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TOMRA sorting machines a key to Sackett's high standards

The Sackett family has been growing potatoes in Michigan for six generations since first planting 20 acres of the crop in 1905. Today, Sackett Ranch covers more than 8,200 acres, with more than 3,800 acres dedicated to growing potatoes. The farm also grows seed corn, field corn, soy beans and wheat.potatoes

Sackett Ranch sells by far the majority of its potatoes, some 80 percent, to top potato-chip brands in the U.S., and has to meet strict quality guidelines. No more than 2 percent of potatoes shipped to plants are permitted to be green, undersized, oversized or with external defects. Meeting these standards is difficult or impossible, as well as time-consuming, when sorting manually. Since their investment in the TOMRA 3A and TOMRA 5A optical sorting machines, Sackett Ranch has found it easy to meet the quality standards by pressing a few buttons on a touchscreen.

The TOMRA 3A optical sorter is designed to remove foreign materials from harvested potatoes, and capable of handling up to 100 tons (120 short tons) per hour. At Sackett Ranch, this machine effectively eliminates foreign materials such as stones, corn cobs and dirt clods, as well as green potatoes, directly from the field. It also solves the problems of recruitment and retention that potato growers often struggle with when depending on manual sorters.

The TOMRA 5A is a premium bulk sorting and size grader that’s very popular with potato processors. Heavy-duty, high-capacity, and high-performance, this machine detects and ejects products that are misshapen, over- or under-sized, or spoiled by rot, mold, or discoloration. At Sackett Ranch the TOMRA 5A is used for a final inspection, categorizing the potatoes by size and quality while removing green and undesirable potatoes to within the 2 percent threshold.

“The TOMRA machines have solved our labor problems," said Luke Parr, farm manager at Sackett Ranch. "If I wasn’t using a TOMRA product, I’d be scrambling every morning to find people, waiting to see who shows up and who doesn’t. Now we need just a few people. You just turn the switch on and you’re running. Before we used TOMRA, we used to ship in the morning until 10-10:30 because I had to wait for employees. Now we can pick up an extra three hours and can do multiple processes at the same time without having to wait for personnel.”

The other big benefit of using TOMRA’s sorters, Parr said, is “increased quality. Our customers benefit. And I can set the size profile of each load going into them. We know exactly how much green, foreign material there is, per field and per bin, and we can grade-out scab more precisely than with the human eye. With manual labor, we were getting out roughly 60 percent of all the foreign material; now we get close to 90 percent. And it’s easy: the TOMRA 3A and TOMRA 5A have the same user interface, so programming is the same on both.”

Parr has no hesitation on recommending TOMRA’s sorting solutions to other potato growers, saying that Sackett Ranch’s investment in these machines has paid back with a win-win: both the grower and the grower’s customers have benefited.

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