What do potatoes and tourists have in common? During the months of February through April, they're both plentiful in Southwest Florida as their "seasons" are underway. For proof, look no further than the Troyer Brothers' potato fields in Lehigh Acres.
Over the next few months, the Troyer Brothers, with the help of approximately 100 workers, expect to harvest, sort and ship nearly 50 million pounds of potatoes from the three locations they farm in Southwest Florida. That's the same weight as 14 Boeing 747s
A potato's trip from the field to your table isn't quite as simple as you may think. Only the most perfect potatoes make it to market, according to Aaron Troyer, who oversees his family farm's day-to-day operations.
An employe of Troyer Brothers works with fresh from the field potatoes which are washed and sorted before being shipped across the nation. Photo special to The Citizen
"We use an optical scanner in our sorting process," Troyer says. "After potatoes have been off-loaded from our trucks and washed, then the scanner examines each one to grade and sort it, based on pre-programmed criteria." Those that pass the grade will be sold to potato distributors or under the Troyer's private Sun King label. Some nearby residents even come to buy potatoes directly from the Troyer's packing house when they see the machines out harvesting.
The Troyers harvest their crop mechanically, instead of sending workers out to pick potatoes. Computers track each potato to the field it came from. Troyer says using technology like the scanner and harvesting machinery makes them more productive and shortens the trip of the potatoes from field to table.
The Troyer harvest will likely last through the end of April. Workers will then begin preparing fields for next year's crop.
The Troyers raise white, red and yellow potatoes which are sold locally, nationally and in Canada. They have been farming in Pennsylvania since 1943 and in Florida since 1983. It is a family operation, owned by brothers Don, Vern and David Troyer. Aaron is the son of David. The company employs 22 full-time and 75 seasonal employees. Harvesting begins in now and continues to April.