Folson Farms works to produce quality potatoes in the rich soils of the Red River Valley. Their desire is to provide customers with a consistently quality product.

Over the past few years, Folson Farms faced the following challenges:

  • You sometimes have difficult batches.
  • The type of defects that affect potato quality vary from year to year.
  • With hand grading it’s difficult to achieve the quality you want.
  • Labor is hard to find.
  • The throughput per hour was not sufficient to handle the potential volumes.


Every challenge has its solution.


Following are just a few of the improvements that Folson Farms achieved:

✅ Increased quality consistency
✅ Improved production capacity to expand business potential.
✅ Created a reliable, efficient operation that is less dependent on labor.



“Ellips-Elisam stood out for its gentle potato handling, unmatched quality consistency and throughput. Our operations are now more efficient with fewer labor requirements and higher capacities.”

Casey Folson – Folson Farms

 

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About Folson Farms

Folson Farms is a fifth-generation potato grower in the Red River Valley. The potato-growing heritage extends back to 1905, when Nels Folson, became the first commercial potato grower in North Dakota. In 1952, Richard 'Bud' Folson incorporated his own farming venture in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Bud always enjoyed producing great “Red River Reds” for the market, and although Folson Farms now involves growing, washing, packing and shipping a variety of mostly table-stock potatoes, our primary focus is still on producing fine red potatoes. My father and his brother continued what my grandfather built and now my two brothers and I are farming together as fifth-generation potato growers. Everyone at Folson Farms appreciates the hard work, innovation and sacrifice that our predecessors put forth to succeed. We strive to maintain their tradition of excellence today.

Potato quality with stunning appearance and excellent taste

We farm in the Red River Valley, which is known for its deep black rich soils that produce high-quality, deeply colored red potatoes and nice clear skin yellow potatoes. Most of our red potatoes and a significant portion of our yellows are grown on dry land acreage. They are non-irrigated, have higher solids and carry a lot more flavor than an irrigated potato. That’s why they look great and have an excellent taste. We grow 3 different red varieties and 4 different yellow varieties. We sell 3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 pound poly bags. We also sell bulk potatoes in cartons, sacks and totes.

Quality potatoes is key as a premium brand

Folson Farms offers a premium brand for the fresh markets. Primarily for retail and food service distribution. Poly bags go to retail while 50 pound sacks and cartons are for food services, primarily restaurants. So, our fresh potatoes typically end up in people’s homes or on your plate in a restaurant. Our branding is mostly about our location and what we can provide from our land. Of course, it depends on market situation, but we generally get premium prices for the potatoes that we sell compared to other regions of the country.

The major impact of weather conditions

Since we are dry land potato farmers with little access to irrigation, rain plays a critical role in the crops we grow each year. There is also variability in the results. Too much rain is not good, because potatoes suffocate, drown or sufer from growth cracks. Too little rain, potatoes don’t have the moisture required to grow properly and the ground can become very hard and damaging to the potatoes. There are other critical factors, such as soil condition, that can cause potatoes to be more susceptible to scab and certain diseases. There are always challenges because God gives us different weather and growing conditions each year. The potatoes don’t always turn out like you wish. In a perfect world, you’d wish that you didn’t need grading technology and that every potato looks and tastes perfect. However, that’s not reality. Reality is that you sometimes have poor growing conditions including too much, or too little rainfall. As a result, quality will vary year to year.

Potato Grading Folson Farms Quality Consistency

Main Goals and Challenges

The primary objectives are to address labor issues, ensure consistent quality, and increase operational capacity. Here are the key points for each goal:


1. Being fully operational and delivering orders on time, independent of labor issues.

Certain batches of potatoes with many defects take a lot of manual sorting labor to ensure your achieve desired quality levels. That’s why our goal was to boost efficiency by replacing labor with “smart” technology. We wanted to be able to operate with fewer people. Finding labor was difficult and we struggled to pack the volume we desired. Grading all the required potatoes was challenging due to product and staffing inconsistencies. We were looking for smart automation – an optical grading machine to overcome these issues.

“Automation has enabled us to grade our produce much faster than with manual labor which has increased efficiency and reduced labor costs.”

Casey Folson – Folson Farms

 

2. Ensuring consistent quality regardless of batch variations

A major quality goal is to maintain consistency in product appearance. Even when dealing with challenging lots. We try our very best to grow quality potatoes in the field, but some seasons present variation in quality because of weather and conditions beyond our control. Each season presents a mix of high-quality and less-quality potatoes. You want to feel comfortable that you are shipping good looking products according to the correct quality classification. An intelligent optical grading machine helps mitigate this annual variation in quality by providing a much better look at the complete surface of each potato.

Deal with different defects

Also, the type of defects can vary from year to year. You can have a lot of potatoes with greening, scab or growth cracks. Our aim is to detect all these defects and consistently deliver a quality product. This enables us to avoid rejections and maintain a strong brand reputation.


“Customers will have full confidence that they will receive a quality product that looks and tastes great while ensuring a consistent quality experience.”

Casey Folson – Folson Farms

  1. Process more potatoes to increase capacities

We wanted to improve throughput in order to handle a larger amount of potatoes. Increased volume helped transform our business efficiencies and profitability. While you must be able to sort quickly, it is important that the potatoes are handled delicately. Folson’s Finest premium quality potatoes must be preserved. Damage means devaluation. As such, the grading machine must also effectively and gently handle the different size and shapes of potatoes. Typically red potatoes are smaller and rounder compared to larger and more oblong yellow potatoes.


“The operating speed of the system should not degrade the quality of the images created and utilized by the optical grading machine. In order to achieve optimal grading, the entire surface of the potato, including all quality characteristics, needs to be clearly reflected in the images.”

Casey Folson – Folson Farms

 

What were the main motivations for choosing Ellips -Elisam?


1. Achieving the best quality consistency and throughput


We had a really good feeling that Ellips-Elisam could achieve our desired goals. We have proven that our grading and sorting technology helps us do better than other systems in the market when considering our crucial goals of quality consistency and increased capacity.

2. Delicate product handling

Potato handling is super important in our business and we really liked how the machine and roller cups handled the potatoes. Our Elisam grader provided the necessary 360° rotation and handling speed while gently delivering the potatoes without damage.

3. Partnership with John
John was helpful, responsive and informative. Great to work with. He helped us through the entire process. We felt comfortable that John was working for us in order to achieve our objectives. John really had an interest in our success and ensuring that the equipment arrived on time, was assembled correctly and operated at peak performance. Due to his knowledge and experience, we had a lot of confidence working with him as he led the project from start to finish.


Training to get the most out of technology

Obviously, you want to get the most out of your new investment from day one. As expected, there was a learning curve with the new technology. However, Ellips has very user-friendly software and with training and guidance from Ellips USA technicians, Chris and Brandon, we quickly learned how to achieve the desired results. Both Brandon and Chris spent time with us in the control booth to help us learn and optimize the software in order to identify the defects and get the end-results we wanted. Within a couple of weeks, we had set up all our programs and were able to make the adjustments necessary to optimize grading results and process flow.   Based on the training and support we received, we really felt comfortable with our ability to run the system to it fullest potential.

Results

 

“Our operation has changed dramatically since the implementation of the new machine. It transformed our operational efficiency and helped create new market opportunities. We are able to be more responsive to our customers’ demands and can quickly react to differences in harvest quality. Regardless of product quality, we can run at full speed and deliver required volume in spite of the difficult labor market.

Casey Folson – Folson Farms


Following are just some of the improvements that Folson Farms achieved:

✅ Increased quality consistency 
✅ Improved production capacity to expand business potential.
✅ Createdd a reliable, efficient operation that is less dependent on labor.

Increased quality consistency to guarantee brand reputation.


Each year, we have different defect we must deal with. Ellips’ technology helps us deal with those variables and still deliver the quality demanded by our customers. Unless there is a real shortage of potatoes, we can now provide them with sufficient product that meets those expectations. Our ability to deliver consistent results helps us retain our existing customers while expanding our market potential.

Maximize the value of the harvest


We are now able to grade and sort our potatoes so that they end up in their rightful categories. Previously, a number 1 quality potato may have been sorted as a number 2 quality or the other way around. With our Ellips grading technology, we have minimized those occurrences while also reducing the good potatoes that in end up in the waste stream. This capability has helped us to maximize the value of our crop.


Improved production capacity to expand business potential.

We utilize the Elisam machine for both yellow and red potatoes. It can easily handle different colors, sizes, shapes and volumes which enabled us to significantly increase our throughput regardless of variety. We also had virtually zero downtime with Elisam grader and the system reliability has been impressive. We are less affected by variety, size, shape or quality.

 

A reliable, efficient operation that is less dependent on labor.

We are much more efficient than we were previously. The Elisam grader allows us to get more product through the packhouse with fewer people. We no longer struggle to meet order deadlines since it takes less time to do the same thing. And, most importantly, you can rely on the technology to deliver the quality desired by each of our customers.

Future

Although we have focused on expanding our relationships and volumes with existing customers, we are attracting new customers as well. Importantly, our new technology and operational improvements enable us to deliver the product quality and volumes that the market demands.

Ready to revolutionize your business?


  • Maximize throughput with less labor

  • Improve quality consistency

  • Get the most value out of each produce
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