Potato grading: 5 big challenges and how to tackle them

February, 23, 2022

When it comes to potato grading, growers and packers face a lot of challenges. In most cases, this effort requires many people who are tasked with manually assessing the quality of the produce in order to meet the standards of their customers. Based on this process, grading and sorting is often the limiting factor to increased production. Additionally, if there are internal quality issues, it is not possible for manual sorters to determine the presence of internal defects. Until now, there was no clear-cut solution.

The 5 biggest challenges
‘A lot of challenges..’, yes we know your struggles. In this article we will discuss the following five:

  1. Assessing internal quality
  2. Infection of good produce
  3. Efficient handling and grading of different shapes and sizes
  4. Increasing potato sorting capacity
  5. Shortage of good employees

But first: machinery and software must work together

When it comes to product throughput, efficiency and quality, machinery and software must work seamlessly together to achieve the best result. The robust Elisam GranTorino Potato Grader coupled with our Ellips Grading Software forms the perfect potato grading and sorting solution. Additionally, our technology ensures a maximum return on your harvest, while delivering exactly what your customer desires. In this article, we’ll explain you how.

1: Assessing internal quality

When it comes to grading potatoes, you can sort your produce based on the external quality (I.e., size, color and weight). But the quality of the outside of your potatoes doesn’t necessarily guarantee the quality of your produce as a whole. While the outside of a potato might meet all the quality standards your customer expects, the internal quality may leave much to be desired.

Potatoes can be affected by various internal diseases or defects.

For example:

  • Flecking
  • Glazing
  • Hollow hearts.

To guarantee the desired quality for your customers, it is important to assess your produce both externally and internally.

Assessing ‘under the skin’ defects
Obviously, it’s not possible to cut every potato – random quality control checking takes a lot of time, ruins a substantial part of your produce and doesn’t guarantee the internal quality of every single potato. Utilizing near infra-red technology (NIR) has enabled some limited detection of ‘under the skin’ defects. However, this only provided quality assessment a few millimeters underneath the skin which doesn’t provide a reliable indication of the overall internal quality of your produce.

There’s a solution
Luckily, there is a solution for this problem. Finally! The Elisam GranTorino potato grader uses light transmission technology. With this technology, you are able to see completely through the product (instead of just underneath the skin) by virtually ‘slicing’ potatoes into pieces. Let us explain you how this works.

Virtually slicing potatoes
The technology uses the spectra of transmitted light. Every potato will be virtually sliced in up to 20 slices. For each slice, the solution measures the absorption and transmission of different infra-red frequencies. Based on this ratio, it determines the internal quality of the entire potato.

2: Infection of good produce

The second challenge in grading potatoes is similar to the previous one because there are, at least, two reasons you may want to examine potatoes for internal defects:

  • Firstly, you want to be certain that the quality of your product meets your customer’s demands.
  • Secondly you want to avoid good produce being affected by bad or infected potatoes.

Removing potatoes with early-stage defects
Finally, our transmittance technology is so advanced that it can detect very small internal characteristics and defects. And our software can be set to your demands, so you can choose the characteristics and defects you want to assess. When it is possible to remove potatoes with certain defects from your product, you’ll protect the produce that will be delivered to your customers. This will help maximize your returns by avoiding rejections while ensuring that your product meets the quality and consistency demanded by your customers. This means: less food waste and an increase in value of your harvest.

3: Efficient handling and grading of different shapes and sizes

The third challenge associated with effectively grading potatoes involves the ability to handle different varieties with a diversity of size and shape. For example, in this video, John Albert, of Ellips USA, explains that red potatoes can be round, while yellow and white potatoes can be oblong in nature. The unique design of our Elisam GranTorino potato grader ensures that all potatoes (regardless of size and shape) can be ran at high capacity while still achieving a consistent 360° rotation of each potato under the Ellips TrueSort optical grading technology. TrueSort utilizes hi-resolution multi spectral cameras to take 90 photos of every potato while it rotates underneath the lens.

Wrongly rejected potatoes
This capability enables you to deliver a consistent pack to your customers without the need of manual grading and sorting potatoes. In addition, less product is wrongly rejected which helps ensure a maximum return on your harvest while delivering exactly what your customer desires. This also greatly reduces food waste. As Dave Hughes (Hughes Farms) describes in the video: “The grading is so much better and we can finetune it, such that a potato that we might have thrown out last year, we have use for it this year. Just more efficient.”

4. Increasing potato grading capacity

When it comes to growing potatoes, you are the expert! But when it comes to growing revenue, we believe that we know how to help. In bottom-line terms, it is very simple: you must be able to grade more potatoes in less time, with less labor and with better quality and consistency.

Poor quality batches (lots) decrease capacity
Due to the increased frequency of severe/challenging weather conditions and more stringent regulations regarding the use of pesticides, potato quality is declining in some areas in the world. As a result, processing capacity decreases and more employees are needed for grading.
That is why Wilhelm Weyers has chosen automation to help address these issues. “When we would still sort by hand, we would need about two people to grade a good batch. But with a bad quality batch we would need eight or even ten people”, our client Reinhard Krebbers, General Manager at Wilhelm Weyers, explains in this video. Wilhelm Weyers started using the Elisam Grading potato grader in 2021. He continues: “But regardless of the quality of the batch, we are still able to sort the same capacity.” So even with a lower quality batch, Wilhelm Weyers increased their capacity and is able to sort more potatoes in less time.

The problem with organic (biological) potatoes
This is also crucial when you think about new regulations regarding the use of pesticides (especially in Europe). Growers must reduce the use of pesticides and grow more organic potatoes. Unfortunately, the quality of organic potatoes is not generally as high as conventional potatoes. And we already explained, a poor lot means there are more employees needed for grading your potatoes.

Sorting up to 36.000kg (80.000lbs) potatoes per hour
Depending on potato size, our solution can grade and sort over 4500kg (10.000 lbs )of potatoes per hour per lane. The Elisam potato grader is configurable based on the number of lanes and exits required. So, with only two lanes you’ll reach a capacity of 9000kg (20,000 lbs) per hour while a configuration including eight lanes would enable you to achieve a capacity of 36.000kg (80.000 lbs) of potatoes per hour. This capacity is 2-4 times higher than other potato graders.

5: Shortage of good employees

And that’s where we reach the fifth and final challenge of this article. Previously, we discussed the GranTorino’s ability to grade based upon external and internal attributes much more accurately than could ever be accomplished manually. It’s also evident that due to the sorting speed of the machine, the capacity is much higher (regardless of the quality of the batch) than other potato sorting equipment, let alone human hands.

.. and reducing labor costs
In addition to these advantages, it is also very difficult to find (and keep) good employees these days. Automating the sorting process is a great solution to this problem. In addition to addressing the labor availability problem, our solution delivers significant reductions in labor costs and maximum yield from each batch of potatoes. In this way, our customers can achieve an ROI in less than two years.

Happy customers and a healthy business
In short, by enhancing your existing packing operation with more efficient and accurate potato grading and sorting technology, you’ll save a lot of money while delivering exactly what your customers demand.

Make every potato count
Ellips can help you optimize your grading, sorting and packing operation by supplying the most advanced potato grading technology available. To discover the possibilities associated with our Elisam GranTorino Potato Grader and Ellips TrueSort Grading Technology please feel free to contact us.

Questions?
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