Norfolk-based contract farmer and potato grower B&C Farming purchased a bespoke potato grading line from Peal Engineering 29 years ago. With advances in equipment automation and efficiency offering some significant savings in labour and costs, when the time came for B&C Farming to upgrade their existing line, managing director Tony Bambridge approached Tong Engineering to design a custom-built seed potato grading facility with all the company’s current and future requirements in mind.
B&C Farming, based in Marsham, Norfolk, work with Greenvale AP and McCain to supply seed potatoes direct to growers. Operating a ‘just in time’ delivery system using the companies own lorries, B&C Farming supply seed at planting. A new grading facility would ensure they can continue to produce more, higher-quality seed potatoes in line with ongoing contract demands.
“Specifying a new grading line is a very individual process,” explains Tony. “It takes time to determine all the processes you want to achieve from the new grading line, whilst understanding all the advanced handling capabilities on offer with the latest equipment on the market. That’s why we needed to work with a manufacturer who understood our requirements fully, to make adjustments where necessary to suit our exact needs. Both myself, my daughter Sophie and a number of others from the farming team worked closely with Tong to ensure the new grading system would perform just as we imagined.”
With a reduction in labour costs a key objective in the specification of the new line, a Tong side-eject box tipper feeds crop onto the line. Potatoes that are lifted into the boxes at harvest before being graded in January and February. “It’s a fine line between keeping the forklift drivers busy, and them being too rushed; risking accidents or causing the line to stop and wait for crop,” explains Tony. “The side-eject box tipper not only reduces forklift movement, allowing us to cut the number of forklifts required for grading, but it also ensures a continuous flow of crop onto the grading line.”
Labour requirements at the crop cleaning and grading section of the line have also been taken into consideration. “Taking care of the complete grading system from start to finish, Tong integrated the Tomra FPS optical sorter into the line for automatic detection of stones and clod in the unwashed crop. With this removal of debris now being performed automatically, inspection staff can now focus on grading for quality of the potatoes, with size-grading took care of by Tong’s EasyGrade screen grading modules,” says Tony. “What’s more, inspection staff are now in a fully-insulated, heated and sound-proofed cabin, allowing for much more pleasant inspection conditions.”
The new grading line at B&C Farming also features Tong’s industry-leading box filler the Midi EasyFill, which gently transfers graded and sorted crop back into boxes for storage. In addition, a series of Tong vertical lowerator box fillers are used for high capacity yet gentle box filling. “When crop comes out of store and is ready for delivery to customers in March, Tong’s UniFill big bag filler comes into its own as crop is tipped onto a second line where it passes through final inspection and is gently filled into 1 or 1.25 ton bags,” explains Tony.
Edward Tong, Managing Director at Tong Engineering comments; “It has been a real pleasure working closely with the team at B&C Farming to design and manufacture a grading line that fits their brief in terms of grading requirements, but also considers the layout requirements for efficient operation in their recently built shed. Our project management team worked with Tony and his team throughout the install to get everything running smoothly in time for their grading season at the beginning of 2019.”
“We’ve almost doubled the throughput of our grading facility whilst cutting out a forklift operator, and we’re maintaining if not improving quality,” added Tony. “We are very pleased with the new system.”
Watch the video of the seed potato grading line at B&C Farming here: