ORLANDO, Fla. — Few people know better than Greg Jones how important it is to sort and grade potatoes accurately and quickly.
At the height of his 35 years as a grower, his operation sorted and loaded a semi-trailer once every 10 minutes during harvest. That’s 4.6 million pounds per day.
Then, the Atkins Diet craze slammed the potato industry and successive years of bad weather hit Jones’ fields on Maryland’s Delmarva Peninsula. His growing career was over, but a back-burner project became his new vocation.
As founder and president of AgSort Inc., St. Augustine, Fla., Jones has seen his idea for an efficient, affordable potato grader/sorter become a reality. Dubbed the E-Sorter, Jones unveiled his creation at Potato Expo 2012 in Orlando in early January.
Jones said he was motivated to create the E-Sorter because he wanted to give growers a better option at a better price. He said there are a of lot high-tech sorting/grading machines with expensive computerized scanners and cameras that were designed with the process in mind, but not the grower.
“I started working on this idea while I was still farming,” Jones said at his booth on the Potato Expo trade show floor. “I worked on it for three years then and another five after I got out of growing.”
The one thing that Jones would not compromise on was the cost of the machine. Consequently, affordability became the No. 1 item on a checklist of six considerations he calls “critical attributes.”
“If the growers can’t afford to buy the machine, it’s no good to anyone,” he said.
The other five attributes on his list are: consistent accuracy, serviceability, intuitive operation, scalability and adaptability. Jones said his commitment to his six critical attributes slowed the development of the E-Sorter.
The E-Sorter can be set up with four lanes that sort and grade 400 cwt. per hour. For larger operations, it can grow to 24 lanes and handle 2,400 cwt. per hour.
The machine uses accelerated gravity to feed potatoes through a series of scanners that determine grade. The spuds move at a rate of 8 to 9 per second, per lane. With an eight-lane sorter, Jones said that translates into about 1,000 cwt. per hour.
The scanning algorithms can be modified to allow growers to make instant adjustments. Jones said he designed the machine to have a minimal learning curve with simple design to allow operators to make repairs themselves.
E-Sorters can also handle split sorting to allow for different streams of product to be run.
“The sorter adapts to the customers’ needs, rather than forcing them to adapt their operations to fit the machine,” Jones said.