Potato Harvester Sanei Industry Co., Ltd.

Website: Sanei Industry Co., Ltd.External site: a new window will open
Category: Japanese Machinery

Homegrown industry

Japan's northernmost major island of Hokkaido differs geographically from its other main islands, with wide, sweeping plains across a large portion of the land, making it ideal for growing a variety of crops-especially potatoes. It's here that Sanei Industry Co., Ltd. developed its potato harvester and other agricultural equipment, which it's now introducing to the world stage.

Sanei Industry's roots go back to 1961, when CEO Tsuyoshi Mohri's father opened up a steel shop to repair farm equipment. It was around this time when Japan's farms started modernizing, and horse-drawn farming implements began to be supplanted by engine-powered tools. As the shop was located in the midst of a potato-based agricultural town, his father decided to produce machines to harvest potatoes; his first harvester debuted in 1965.

Sanei Industry Co., Ltd. CEO Tsuyoshi Mohri

Sanei Industry's EX-ZERO offset potato harvester, pictured in a Hokkaido field

Listening to customers

Mohri says that from the beginning the company has sought feedback from farmers about their needs (such as avoiding potato bruising), and that philosophy is still part of product development today. This could explain why out of more than ten Japanese companies that originally made harvesters, Sanei is one of only four remaining in the domestic industry, with a 25 percent market share. Mergers with other companies in the 1980s helped the company expand its product lines to sugar beet harvesters and weed cutters.

Smart harvesting

Beneath the potato harvester, quite literally, is a surprising amount of technology. Mohri explains that some models of the harvester have computer controls and sensors installed near the first contact point of the machine: the scooper. These sensors can determine inclines in the potato mound and adjust automatically, a step up from other models that required manipulation by the operator.

Assembly of weed cutters on the company's factory floor

Filling a niche

Sanei Industry's potato harvester fills a market niche in quality agricultural equipment that's available in a smaller size and at a correspondingly smaller price than bigger European counterparts. In 2009, Sanei Industry became the first Japanese company to exhibit independently at Germany's Agritechnica, the largest agricultural equipment trade fair in the world. That major step into the world market has led to business in a variety of countries spanning Europe as well as South and East Asia.

Sanei Industry's SS-1 mini potato harvester is a popular export model

Adapting to overseas needs

There are always challenges with taking a homegrown product abroad, and Mohri has experienced his fair share. His biggest surprise was the different way of thinking among customers overseas.

"Japanese people," he elaborated, "tend to think of what they can do within the machine's specs." Some foreign customers were less interested in the specs and more about how much productivity they could obtain from the machine. Still, Mohri is undaunted by the hurdles and says he's taking them on one at a time.

With worldwide potato demand on the increase and more developing countries turning to automation, Sanei Industry hopes to be harvesting many more customers in the future.