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NEWS

Blackfoot Company on Cutting Edge of Protecting Stored Potatoes

By: Catie Clark, Reporter
cclark@am-news.com
Monday, January 29, 2018
Blackfoot, ID

Terry Wilcox, a potato grower in Rexburg commented the IHT "has made a lot of reliable machines — they are worth having in the arsenal of storage management."

In 1985, Garry Isaacs invented a piece of equipment he called a humigator. He patented it and started a company in Blackfoot six years ago called Idaho Hydro Tech in order to manufacture it. The name is a combination of fumigator and humidifier, which describes the two functions of the invention.

Three years ago he retired and his son, Blake took over. "We've grown every year," Blake Isaacs said. "We have customers in eight states and two Canadian provinces."  The humigator uses a patented "venturi scrubber" to remove mold spores and bacteria from the air inside potato storage without the use of physical filters or chemicals. It does this while maintaining humidity inside the storage facility.

The patented process used by the Humigator depends solely on the physics of water and air inside the venturi scrubber. The Humigator sucks in the air of the storage space and blends it with a little water. Inside the scrubber mechanism, water droplets of different sizes collide. Through the collision process, the larger droplets encapsulate molds and microbes.

Because the larger water droplets are heavier, they are removed by weight separation and are sent down the drain along with the pathogens they have captured. The smaller water droplets, 10 microns in size or smaller, are sent back into the air of the potato storage to maintain humidity. In this way, the Humigator lives up to its name by both scrubbing pathogens out of the storage air while humidifying it at the same time.

Because the water droplets that sent back into storage are so small, the Humigator humidifies without creating standing water, which is sometime a problem with other types of humidifiers. By maintaining humidity, stored potatoes shrink less, which means more money for the grower when the potatoes are sold.

In March 2017, Boise State and Idaho State Universities received a joint $500,000 IGEM grant from the State of Idaho to support the development of two potato storage technologies. ISU's portion of the grant was $200,000 specifically to study the pathogen-removal ability of the Humigator with scientific rigor. A Humigator model 1225 with a 560 cubic feet per minute scrubbing capacity was installed in a dedicated lab run by Professor Peter Sheridan, a microbiologist. The equipment installed has the ability to scrub all of the air in the lab once every 11 minutes.

Beginning in the summer, the Humigator has been tested on mold spores and bacteria. The preliminary results reported this month by Sheridan are favorable: "The Humigator captures huge numbers of both yeast spores and bacteria…in an atmosphere with high concentrations of microbes, the Humigator collects nearly as many microbes per unit of water as the water can hold."  Further testing by Sheridan will look at further into spore accumulation. Sheridan will also test for the ability of the Humigator to remove viruses.

IHT customers seem to happy with the Blackfoot company's product. Terry Wilcox, a potato grower in Rexburg commented the IHT "has made a lot of reliable machines — they are worth having in the arsenal of storage management."

Isaacs is proud of the capabilities of his father's invention, especially its ability to remove potato pathogens from the air using only water and physics. "We can remove 350 million mold spores and four trillion bacteria per gallon of water collected," he explained. "We're growing fastest with the organic growers because we're pesticide free."

Blake Isaacs