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How a group of students help save sweet potatoes on a California farm


FRESNO, CA – It’s sweet potato harvest season!

And a California farm is using a unique invention to make sure no vegetables are wasted – with the help of a few young researchers.

Sometimes during harvesting, sweet potatoes still in the ground break when the wheels of the harvester and trailer slowly zigzag through a row.

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

“It’s frustrating because you want to pick up everything you’ve got. You’ve grown it so this is the last time you do it before it hits the market,” he says.

That’s where a team of engineering and computer science students from the University of California Merced came in.

They dubbed their sensor-driven invention that fits on the trailer hitch “Sweet Steering”.

“As the unit moves left to right, it feeds information to a computer inside the tractor and actually directs the tractor’s hydraulics,” says farmer Brian Carter.

It used to be difficult to steer during harvesting, but now the trailer stays level and the wheels stay in line so as not to crush the 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 they were doing. They took everything and destroyed everything,” says Duarte.

“I think they did an amazing job from start to finish,” Carter adds. “You can see how the harvester crosses the field. You can see through the rank that it goes straighter than someone can use it manually … we are delighted to see that it works. ”

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