The Bernard company specializes in the production of seed Potatoes for gardeners, market gardeners, and farmers. The TOMRA 3A optical sorter provides the company with the working power and accuracy to secure operations in the high season and has enabled it to increase its production capacity.
The Bernard SME employs 35 people and is almost one hundred years old. It is located in Gomiécourt, 30 minutes from the Arras train station, in the Hauts-de-France region on the vast plains of the Artois.
After 60 years of cultivating its land and producing Potatoes, this family company changed its business model in the 1990s. As a plant breeder, it moved upstream of the supply chain and developed its varieties. Osiris, Bernadette, Corne de Gatte, Blanche, Jeannette, Rose de France, Ulysse, Vitabella … are all propagated here: to date, the Bernard company offers no less than 15 exclusive varieties, resulting from multi-year selection programs.
They all had to prove themselves, as much for their taste characteristics, as for their resistance to disease and yield before being entered in the catalog or finding their way into fields and vegetable gardens. To develop its plant breeding capabilities, the company has recently invested in a highly innovative in-house laboratory dedicated to in vitro cultivation – a unique initiative for a private company of this size – which will enable it to shorten the time to obtain new varieties adapted to tomorrow’s world (climate change, anti-pesticide legislation, etc.).
For the production of seed potatoes the company relies on its vocation as a producer, and as a logistics operator for their sale.
The company cultivates 265 ha – 30 ha are organic – and complements its production capacity with local farming partners under contract to sell their crops to the company.
Its logistics and packaging facilities are organized for retail sales in trays of 60 or 100 seed potatoes, and they supply to garden centers in 3 kg bags. A few figures illustrate the scale of its activity:
- 8,000 metric tons sold per year
- 2 million packages
- A modern packaging center covering 3,000 m2 with a capacity of 3,000 metric tons/year
- A refrigerated area of 7,000 m2
Today, the SA Bernard brand holds a good 20% share of the French grower market.
Unbeatable quality for every seed potato
For a grower, every single tuber is a promise of harvest. It must grow, and it would be disappointing if any of its seedlings appeared damaged or less promising. In short, the grower is demanding, and has the means to be: they can feel and examine each tuber from all angles before putting it in the ground! Just like the cook at a later stage when they prepare their recipes.
As a seed potato grower, being demanding is not about marketing because the impeccable quality of the Bernard brand is not self-proclaimed; it’s certified. Every batch of Potatoes is controlled by precise criteria and receives a unique certification number affixed to its packaging. The certifiers, representatives of the State, make checks daily during the sales season. No quality flaw is allowed; the entire process must be controlled at all times.
Expelling damaged tubers, cleaning the crop…
This quality requirement makes the sorting stage all the more crucial in the value chain.
Sorting the unwashed Potatoes from the field must eliminate all damaged, cut, rotten, or diseased tubers before storage and packaging. The sorter must, above all, eliminate all foreign bodies, including the earth clods remaining after the product goes through the potato cleaner.
In 2013, Bernard chose to automate this step with an optical sorter. The company first opted for TOMRA’s FPS (Field Potato Sorter), a first-generation specialized sorter, which it replaced last year with a new model, the TOMRA 3A.
“This machine meets the requirements of producers: large volumes, detection of green potatoes, no bruises on the products, great robustness, ease of use and handling in the storage unit, statistical reports, etc.”, explains Grégoire Volpoet, sales manager in France.
The TOMRA 3A optical sorter makes a big difference for this specialized grower. During the harvest season, the machine can operate with no limitation on working hours, and adapt to the pace of harvesting and arrivals. This has enabled the Bernard company to increase its propagation surfaces, give work to its partner farmers without being overwhelmed. All the Potatoes that arrive are sorted, stored, and packaged in its warehouses without delay.
“The machine sorts at a constant rate, regardless of the quality of the batch it receives. Even if the Potatoes are very earthy as they leave the field, the optical sorter recognizes them and eliminates any clods… This consistency in the sorting result contributes to quality control, which leads to certification of the batches,” explains Victor Dhers, production manager at SAS Bernard. “And next year, we might extend the use of the machine to sorting Onions, which SA Bernard trades … “.
Source: TOMRA Food
Cover photo: Grégoire Volpoet, sales manager in France, and Victor Dhers, production manager
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