A new technology that grades peanuts faster and more accurately is being researched by Agricultural Research Service scientists at the ARS National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Georgia.
“The U.S. peanut industry is in a period of rapid economic and technical change, and this technology will help the industry maintain a competitive edge,” says Marshall Lamb, research leader at the lab.
Lamb was approached by peanut-industry representatives for help in solving labor-shortage issues by automating peanut grading. Engineer Hank Sheppard tested x-ray technology to determine whether such a system could handle the job. When compared to official peanut-grading methods, the technology delivered a 98- to 99-percent accuracy rate, and it was faster—7 minutes versus 20 minutes per peanut grade sample.
“Official grading is labor intensive, requiring three to six people to hand-shell, pick, sort, and grade each nut,” says Sheppard. “The industry is having difficulty finding enough people to fill the worker requirements and who are willing to set aside 3 months of the year to do this difficult job.”
Accordingly, the industry recently launched an initiative to improve current procedures or develop new technologies that would make peanut grading more efficient while ensuring—or even improving—accuracy and quality.
Another processing problem being addressed by ARS research is peanut moisture. Nuts must have a moisture content of 10 percent or less to be suitable for further processing and shelling. The ability to determine moisture before grading begins would allow processors to divert high-moisture nuts for further drying instead of discarding them. Currently, the nuts are shelled, and then the moisture content is determined.
Chari Kandala, an agricultural engineer at the lab, has developed an automated in-shell moisture-detection system that could work in tandem with the x-ray grading unit to provide peanut processors a more efficient operation.
“We strive to help the peanut industry tackle important technical and quality issues. Applying these technologies may play a role in solving some of their problems,” says Lamb.—By Sharon Durham, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
"Helping the Peanut Industry" was published in the February 2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.