How a group of students are helping save sweet potatoes on a California farm

ByDale Yurong, Joyeeta Biswas via Localish logo
Monday, November 29, 2021
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It's sweet potato harvesting season! And one California farm is using a unique invention to make sure no vegetables are wasted - with a little help from some young researchers.

FRESNO, Calif. -- It's sweet potato harvesting season!

And one California farm is using a unique invention to make sure no vegetables are wasted - with a little help from some young researchers.

Sometimes during harvest, sweet potatoes still in the ground get smashed as the wheels of the harvester and trailer slowly zig-zag through a row.

Mike Duarte, who owns D & S Farms in Atwater, has faced this problem for many years.

"It's frustrating because you want to pick up everything that you have. You grew it and so this is the last you do before it goes to market," he says.

That's where a team of engineering and computer science students from University of California Merced stepped in.

They dubbed their sensor-driven invention which fits over the trailer hitch 'Sweet Steering.'

"As the unit moves from left to right, it gives out information to a computer up inside the tractor and will actually steer the hydraulics on the tractor," says farmer Brian Carter.

Steering used to be difficult during harvest but now, the trailer stays level and the wheels stay within the row so they don't mash any potatoes.

The result - less waste and more sweet potato fries for everyone.

Carter and Duarte have nothing but praise for the students and their invention.

"They knew what the heck they were doing. They just took everything and had it all down," says Duarte.

"I thought they did an amazing job from the beginning to the end," adds Carter. "You can see how the harvester drives through the field. You can see through the row that it's going straighter than somebody can manually use it... We're pretty excited to see it work."

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