|"In the past, hand labor
had the advantage of removing all this trash, giving you pure peppers.
But things have changed, and the pressures of today's fast pace mean that
hand labor is not only time-inefficient and very expensive, it's also
no guarantee of a trash-free harvest. Machines often do a better job today."
The new mechanical cleaner might be used in the field before peppers
are boxed for shipment or at the processing plant, but field cleaning
would eliminate transporting of trash, and applying sticks and leaves
to the soil would return nutrients.
Field cleaning would replace the minimal mechanical cleaning that now
occurs before the peppers move onto a grading table where they're sorted
by hand, further separating them from any remaining trash. The automated
cleaner underwent its second test with the 2004 chili pepper harvest.
Hot Air, Faster Ginning
Another invention at Hughs's lab, a two-row prototype thermal defoliator,
offers hot air as an alternative to chemicals for removing cotton leaves
before harvest. As the device is driven through a field, its propane
heaters blast cotton leaves with heat, killing them. It was successfully
tested in fall 2003, with more extensive testing in 2004.
"This defoliation method may be of particular interest to organic
farmers," Hughs says. "We have to determine its effects on
cotton quality, costs, and labor requirements, but we think it will
be competitive with airplane spraying of a chemical defoliant."
This research has been financially supported by a cooperative agreement
with the Propane Education and Research Council.
Moving indoors to the cotton ginsand to a research project financially
supported by the cotton industry through Cotton Incorporatedscientists
at Hughs's lab have found a way to modify roller gin stands to quadruple
the processing speed for upland cotton. Upland cotton makes up most
of the U.S. cotton harvest each fallabout 18 million bales.
As roller stands separate seeds from fiber, they leave longer fibers
than do the saw-gin stands that trace back to Eli Whitney's first patent
in 1794. And longer fibers bring a higher price. But until the recent
innovations, the slow ginning rate for upland cotton made it economically
infeasible to use anything but saw-gin stands.
Just a few simple changes enabled ARS scientists to speed up the ginning
of upland cotton from one bale to four bales per hour. "Now we
can put more of it through the roller stand ginning stage and get a
higher quality product," he says.
Hughs says that because cotton and chili peppers are so commonly grown
in rotation in his area, devising machinery for processing both crops
is a natural way to make the whole local farming system more efficient
and economically viable and therefore more globally competitive.By
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Quality and Utilization of Agricultural
Products, an ARS National Program (#306) described on the World Wide
Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
Sidney E. Hughs is with the
USDA-ARS Southwestern Cotton
Ginning Research Laboratory, 300 E. College Dr., Room 203, Mesilla
Park, NM 88047; phone (505) 526-6381, fax (505) 525-1076.
"Processing Hot Peppers Like Cotton" was published
in the February
2005 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.