Grading and packing fresh foods- a field trip - who's building optical graders?

Submitted by Jeff Buster on Fri, 04/27/2012 - 20:13.

orange cleaning sizing packing plant

I had the lucky opportunity a few weeks ago to visit a navel orange grading and packing plant that was built from scratch by 3 brothers and their parents.   The experience was exhilarating - so much creativity and ingenuity on display. 

Every grower or harvester of any type of produce or food - fruit, vegetables, clams, etc - has no control once they send their fruit or catch to the packing plant.    In the case of citrus, once the fruit is picked and leaves the grove to the Sunkist (or other packing plant), the grower has no way of knowing what the truth is:    how much fruit was picked? what is the grade(s) of the fruit?  how much of the fruit is top quality, how much of the fruit is by-product?   was one grower's crop mixed in with another grower's crop?   what is the market paying today for each grade?   should fruit be put into cold storage and sold later at a higher price?   

One way around this packing house "who knows what's really happening" dilemma is to build your own packing plant and sell your fruit directly.  

That's what these folks did.  

Lot's of challenges, one of the biggest being the visual grading of the fruit.    If the skin has too much wind damage, or if there is a split in the rind, then that fruit needs to be removed from the packing line.   The two ways to do this grading are by eye, and with very expensive optical scanning/grading equipment.  A small packing plant can't afford an expensive optical grader,   the other option is to build one.  

That got me thinking about digital cameras, computer AI, and how to build a cheap optical grading machine.   

How about crowd sourcing this problem?   

If you are interested, or have a skill in line with this optical grading machine task, please get in touch.   Or if you know of a reasonably priced optical grader or components to build one, please link me up.  

There would be a huge market for a 20' long intermodal container which housed a flexible cleaning/grading/packing line for everything from onions to peaches and allowed shipping to market directly from the field.   


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