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Company marketing innovative potato storage air cleaner wins Exporter of the Year award

By John O’Connell

Intermountain Farm and Ranch

POCATELLO — Farmers who use Blake Isaacs' patented Humigators can humidify the air in their potato storages while scrubbing it of pathogens, and the process requires no chemicals. 

Isaacs, CEO of Idaho Hydro Tech, has found a niche in Europe, where farm chemicals face greater restrictions than in the U.S. and the organic sector has grown much larger and faster. 

Based on the rapid growth in his foreign sales, Isaacs recently learned IHT has won the 2022 Idaho Small Business Administration Exporter of the Year award and the SBA Region 10 Exporter of the Year award.

Region 10 includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. 

"We will continue to emphasize the European market and we've got a good sales team over there," Isaacs said. "It's also clear we're increasing the number of growers here and in Canada who can benefit from our system."

IHT has sold 120 Humigators to potato farmers in 10 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces and four European countries.

IHT, which has been an Idaho Corporation since January of 2015, started exporting in 2020. That year, the vast majority of its sales were domestic.

By 2021, his European business about doubled his domestic sales, and foreign sales have more than tripled throughout the past two years. 

According to IHT's literature, the machines circulate the air in concert with a potato cellar's ventilation system. Air passes through a series of dramatic pressure changes within the Humigator, mixing with atomized water.

Droplets move at a high velocity and capture particles and pathogens in the air. Dirty water is separated from the cleaned water, which blows back into the potato cellar. 

Isaacs explained his father invented the early prototype, but he's made several alterations to improve performance, reliability and functionality throughout the past six years.

The most recent patent was issued about six months ago. 

Idaho State University's microbiology department studied Humigators about four years ago and found the machines were capable of capturing all mold spores, most bacteria and about half of viruses.

The ISU research was funded with an Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission grant. 

Among U.S. potato growers, peracetic acid is the preferred chemical treatment for protecting potatoes from molds, such as silver scurf.

Isaacs has some organic growers who have enjoyed good results using nothing but Humigators for protection. 

His machines come in three sizes, weighing up to 450 pounds. They range in cost from $25,000 to $35,000 and can be installed in half a day.

The largest machine can cover a storage with up to 5,000 tons of spuds, Isaacs said. 

Many U.S. potato farmers have remained skeptical of the invention, Isaacs said.

Shelley farmer AJ Searle, who raises red and yellow potatoes for the fresh market, was among the first local farmers to test Humigators in 2015.

He now has the machines in all of his storages. 

"Our silver scurf has dropped down dramatically. That's the biggest benefit," Searle said, adding the machines also provide a nice supplemental source of humidity. 

Isaacs said another grower in Oregon's Klamath Basin couldn't store potatoes past January and lost about $300,000 worth of spuds in storage to mold on most years.

Isaacs said Humigators have allowed that grower to store spuds much later in the season and "they don't lose anything anymore."