The 2012 peanut production season was literally one for the record books, with growers throughout the U.S. making record-high yields and production. Having accomplished such a feat, many in the industry are asking, “What’s next?” For the answer to this question, it’s important to take a look at what is in the peanut research pipeline – those problems, issues and initiatives currently being addressed that will lead to even more efficient and profitable peanut production. The “Pipelines to Peanut Profitability” series takes an in-depth look at these areas of research, what they could mean to growers, and when producers can expect to see practical, on-farm applications of this research.

A lot of things have changed in U.S. peanut production in the last 50 years or so, but the grading system isn’t one of them.

The last significant change to the peanut grading system was made in 1957, when the typical harvest season was not as compressed as it is today. There are times when the current grading system cannot keep up with the rush of samples. Also, the process is even more cumbersome in drought years, when more hand shelling is required.

But an alternative system could be on the horizon, one that uses X-ray technology to grade peanut samples.

“We’ve been running the X-ray research project for four years now, and we’ve gotten it to a point to where it’s seems to be quite accurate on the grading factors that we’re interested in measuring,” says Marshall Lamb, research leader for the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga.

The current grading system is very labor intensive, says Lamb. Each load of peanuts delivered is evaluated for quality, which will includes ratio of hulls against sound mature kernels, moisture level, foreign material and damage. The most commonly used grading system today includes as many as 16 probes being made with a pneumatic device to take samples from a trailer, wagon or other conveyance. The sample then requires three to six people operating six separate machines to determine the overall grade, and it can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes to complete that sample.

 

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The peanut grading process is regulated and managed by the USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service and subcontracted out to various Federal State Inspection Services, or FSIS, in peanut-producing states.

In addition to the labor and time required, the testing process can damage the samples, so farmers receive only a small fraction of their best price for the sampled peanuts.

“We need a technology such as the X-ray because sometimes it’s hard to get available temporary labor to work in the shelling plants. The X-ray technology can reduce the labor requirements that the Federal State Inspection Service requires during this time of the season, says Lamb.