The annual cycle in starch-potato cultivation

The annual cycle in engineering studies

In 2016, Chemigate published articles in its magazine The Bridge describing the annual cycles in the cultivation of barley and starch potato. It is a well-known fact that barley and the liquid products generated from it are intimately linked with engineering students’ annual schedule, so here I decided to explore the connections between the annual cycles in the cultivation of starch potato and studies in forest-products technology.

Starch potato
In some respects, the starch potato is a challenging plant to cultivate. But with good planning, it is also a rewarding crop to grow. The best results can be achieved by implementing solid plans and by responding to the specific conditions presented by the growing season. The weather profile is ideal for starch-potato cultivation when temperatures rise at a steady pace in spring and a beneficial precipitation pattern continues throughout the summer. While not thriving in hot weather, potatoes need sunlight to produce starch.

Techie (Engineering student)
In some respects, the engineering student is a challenging student to educate. On entering working life, engineering graduates must possess a broad range of knowledge and good planning ability, skills they are fortunate to discover are rewarding to learn. The best results can be achieved by implementing solid study and test-preparation plans and by responding to the specific conditions presented by the technology-student culture. The spring semester is ideal for students when work proceeds at a steady pace and a beneficial liquid-intake pattern continues throughout the entire year. While not thriving over the work-intensive exam weeks, engineering students need to go through a period of panic-laden last‑minute cramming for an exam, to gain experience and to develop their scheduling and stress-management skills.

September

Starch potato – In the early stages of the harvest, potatoes are dug up at the rate at which they can be delivered to starch-production facilities. The entire crop should be harvested and placed in temporary storage by the end of September or the second week in October. Only dry, good-quality potatoes should be stored this way, to ensure that the stored potatoes do not go bad. This is why the selection of the potatoes to be stored requires special attention, on the level of both the potato variety and the plot in the field. Now is also the time to begin monitoring the stored crop, to ensure that the potatoes remain in good condition. A good crop should not be allowed to become damaged during either harvesting or storage. In autumn, also samples are taken for vitality analyses, to assist with the planning of the next growing season.

Techie – The first few weeks of study see students embark on their studies at a leisurely rate – “there’s plenty of time for that later.” By the end of September or the second week in October, however, all engineering students have come to realize, one by one, that the first exam week is looming, and they pick up the pace. Only dry, good-quality students should be exposed to this workload, to ensure excellent learning results. This is why the scheduling of studies requires special attention, on the level of individual students. Now is also the time for even the most party-oriented engineering student to grasp the mutually exclusive nature of school-night parties and successful studies. A good semester should not be allowed to go bad – if that happens, Kela study grants may need to be paid back because of careless planning at the beginning of the term. Not that this often makes a difference: many students find that they are no longer eligible to receive a study grant in the fall term anyway, because of their summer earnings. In the worst‑case scenario, they may even have to repay some of the benefits they received the previous spring.

October–November

Starch potato – Late fall is the time to plan for the next year and to take stock of the previous growing season, while it is still fresh in the mind. Which things went right, and how successful were the crop-protection and fertilization? Another task carried out at this time of year is the preparation of a cultivation and field-plot plan. 

Techie – Late fall is the time for planning the activities of student organizations, guilds, and their boards while making concerted efforts to recruit new students to take on some of these tasks. Who wants to perform unpaid work for the common good of the guild, and who has the skills required for the positions? Another task carried out at this time of year is recovery from the first exam week, which falls in the latter part of October.

December–March

Starch potato – In the winter months, the grower continues planning the next year’s activities, while making the investments that are necessary for ensuring production capacity. The growers are spoiled for choice when it comes to the crop-protection agents and fertilizers available on the market, so the selection should be studied carefully, to guarantee that the most suitable products are chosen. Feelers will have been put out in autumn, and the arrival of February means that it’s now time to sign production agreements with players in the starch industry. Also, agricultural machines are serviced and repaired over the winter.

Techie – In the winter months, students begin to seek temporary work for the summer, while making sure to clock up enough study credits. Students are spoiled for choice when it comes to the temporary positions available on the market, so the selection should be studied carefully, to guarantee that the most suitable job is chosen (in the case of those who have been studying for more than three years), or any work at all is secured (in the case of first‑ and second‑year students). Feelers will have been put out already in December, and the arrival of February means that the deadline for job applications is at hand. Also, coursework must be carried out at full intensity over the winter.

April–May

Starch potato – The earlier the work in the fields can begin, the better. Most starch-potato varieties require a long growing season, so work on the potato plots should start soon after mid-April. In the best years, planting has begun around April 20.

Techie – The earlier the work in summer jobs can begin, the better for the employer. Most employers require students to start working already in April, so balancing one’s studies and work takes some planning. In the best years, summer work has begun around April 20, making it necessary for the student to give a miss to that year’s biggest student event, May Day celebrations.

May–July

Starch potato – Once the planting has been completed, the emerging potato sprouts should be monitored closely and weeds controlled, with the fertilization plan adhered to carefully all the while. The small potato beds that were prepared for planting are enlarged, to help prevent weeds from growing. Also, the farmer must keep an eye out for plant diseases and take steps to treat them if necessary. Plant diseases have evolved and may even appear early in the season. Factors influencing the development of potato disease include the plot’s cultivation history and the prevailing weather conditions.

Techie – Once the summer job is about to begin, the student often has to relocate to the middle of nowhere. They are usually fortunate, with several other students making the same move, which helps prevent irritation levels from skyrocketing as summer progresses. Also, the students must keep an eye out for the symptoms of stir‑craziness and take steps to treat them on the basis of the living arrangements they have made. Despair may develop and attack students who find themselves in the middle of nowhere. Factors influencing the development of this despair include the distance from their study location and the availability of things to do in their spare time.

July–August

Starch potato – The crop must be monitored until it is almost harvest time, with protection measures taken as necessary. In seed-potato production, fertilizers are used conservatively, to ensure that the crop matures in time and the potatoes don’t get too large. This enables the potatoes to grow a skin that protects them until the following spring. 

Techie – The summer work usually continues until the end of August, or even later. By working until the end of the summer, students attempt to ensure that their bank balance increases steadily and the available funds don’t drop too low. This enables the student to maintain sufficient living standards until the following spring and a new stretch of temporary work.

» Your Super-Techie Paavo Vallas

The annual cycle as a Techie

The annual cycle in starch-potato cultivation
  1. September / Students return to their studies, and their liquid levels must be managed appropriately.
  2. October–November / New students are recruited for the boards of student organizations.
  3. December–March / Employment contracts for the coming summer are signed. (Many students start looking for work in December at the latest!)
  4. April–May / It’s time for May Day celebrations! (Unless summer jobs have already begun…)
  5. May–July / The last classes of the term are completed, and the move to the middle of nowhere is made.
  6. July–August / Work continues. The next year’s budget is taken care of.