JEROME — Potato storage technology hasn’t changed all that much in the past century. For the most part farmers drop their spuds in a simple four-walled building, set up a fan to keep everything aerated, and call it a day.
Jason Jones thinks he’s got a way to do spud storage better.
Jones, co-owner of Gary Jones Construction, knows potato cellars — he estimates his family’s company has built 180 or so since the 1950s. But, with the exception of a prototype, he’s never built anything like the ExactAir potato cellar. The two he has built are the only two in America.
About 50 farmers, some of them traveling from outside the Magic Valley, showed up at the 270,000-sack cellar Nov. 15 in Jerome to get a look at the new kind of spud storage. The facility began operating in October.
“There’s nothing like it,” Jones said. “(Farmers) want to see what’s different, what benefits it can offer and see if the higher cost can justify the benefits you get from it.”
More fans means more savings
Lamb Weston approached Jones with a question: How can we do potato storage differently? So Jones went to Europe, and discovered that across the pond, farmers spend more money up front to get a longer-lasting, energy-efficient potato cellar. He borrowed European concepts for his design.
The ExactAir design is about 60% more energy efficient than a traditional cellar, and it does a better job circulating air as well. The building is a joint effort between Gary Jones Construction and Double L, both of which are based in Mini-Cassia.
Most potato cellars have a set of fans at one end, then blast that air down the entire length of the cellar, some 400 feet.
“That’s been the limitation on how long you can build a building,” Jones said.
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That’s not an ideal way to get air circulation, Jones said. You can hear the difference, he pointed out — his design is quiet enough that you don’t have to shout to be heard.
The ExactAir cellar has sets of fans along its sides, and circulates air in sections. That means each set of fans only has to blow air across 60 feet.
In theory, the ExactAir cellar could be infinitely long — it would just have to have more fans along its sides.
Jones’ cellar in Jerome County is 120 feet wide by 270 feet long. Inside it looks a bit like two long, thin pools of potatoes 19-feet deep.
The improved circulation isn’t merely a result of more fans. The floor has holes in it, too, instead of relying on corrugated pipes that run through the potato piles.
“This is basically a giant air hockey floor,” Jones said.
The entire system is run by a computerized monitoring system. Farmers can make adjustments to humidity and temperature from their phones.
On top of that, the building is sturdier than a standard cellar. You’ll often see cellars with curved roofs that aren’t particularly rugged. The ExactAir cellar has 20-foot-tall concrete walls, and is built to last half a century.
The fancier cellar is more expensive. It costs roughly $1 to $1.25 more per sack. But the benefits are real, Jones said, and he hopes it catches on.
“What we’re trying to prove now is, at the end of the season, when you pull (the spuds) out, they’re a better product,” he said.