It’s basically the same concept of an X-ray as that used to diagnose a broken bone, he explains.

“It will measure different levels of gray scale to determine density. It also can quantify the size of a kernel inside a hull. And based on that size, and the gray scale or density, it will actually calculate the weight of the kernel, and then relative to the weight of the hull which is the grade – the grade is the percent of meat to hull,” he says.

The newer process, when approved by the USDA, will take less than five minutes per load of peanuts and will require only one person to operate the equipment. By the evaluation of up to 256 possible shades of gray resulting from the tests, it can be determined whether an image is a hull, a rock or a peanut, and with no damage to the sample.

The x-ray machine can accurately determine the amount of foreign material, loose-shelled kernels, hulls, sound mature kernels and sound splits. The X-ray machine has proven much faster in determining these grades than the current method.

“For the peanut industry, it definitely would reduce the amount of time it takes to grade a sample, and it will cut down on the amount of labor it takes to grade a sample. The cost savings would be based upon the amount of peanuts that you’re buying at a particular buying point. I don’t think it would prove real efficient for small buying points, but medium to large buying points would benefit from it,” he says.

Lamb emphasizes that the Federal State Inspection Service does an excellent job of grading peanuts under the current system.

“I don’t think it would so much increase the accuracy of the current grading system because the Federal State Inspection Service does a great job under the current system. It was never designed to improve accuracy, but more to improve the efficiency of the process.”

There’s still more work to do, cautions Lamb, before the x-ray system can be used routinely at shelling plants.

“We’re hoping to continue its use on a trial basis, as we have in recent years. But instead of traveling from buying point to buying point, we hope to place some of the machines at designated buying points. But we’ve been pleased with the results of our trials thus far.”

One potential drawback, says Lamb, is that the X-ray system as is will not score damage or A. flavus (aflatoxin), but researchers are exploring possible remedies for that problem. Aflatoxins are a group of potent toxins that can spring from a certain mold and are sometimes found on peanuts and cereal grains when stored under warm, damp conditions.

“I feel fairly confident about the direction of the research, but we’ve still got a little ways to go on it,” he says.

The cost of the system could be as much as $70,000, and it’s not clear at this point who would bear this expense. To accommodate smaller buying points, any federal legislation that permits using the machine to grade peanuts also will likely allow buying points to choose to continue hand grading.

Other articles in the series:

New, improved varieties leading way for U.S. production

Early-season disease control keeps peanut yield foe at bay

Water-use efficiency becoming priority for peanut producers who irrigate

Lack of nematicides slows use of variable rate application in peanuts

Taking guesswork out of determining peanut maturity