Writer: Marvin Tessneer
Las Cruces Bulletin
New Mexico State University engineers are developing a computer-controlled de-stemming machine to help make New Mexico’s chile industry become more competitive, engineer Ryan Herbon said.
The research and development is being conducted at NMSU’s Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center (M-TEC), which has partnered with the New Mexico Chile Association. Both organizations have helped fund the research to mechanize chile harvesting and processing.
“The (M-TEC) chile de-stemmer project is a machine that can remove the stems from chile peppers,” Herbon said. “Currently, all green chile must be harvested by hand because of the tedious process of removing the stems. The machine is being designed to work on green chile, cayenne peppers and jalapeños. If the machine works, it will provide tremendous cost savings to growers by allowing them to mechanically harvest their crops.
“The big advantage is to allow machines to harvest the chile and save labor costs.”
Gene Baca, New Mexico Chile Association president, said about the de-stemmer design and development:
“M-TEC is making progress on the destemming machine, which is critical to the health of the New Mexico chile industry. A prototype has been built and was tested last month and needed additional modifications.
“M-TEC ran into unforeseen setbacks and is still trying to overcome some technical hurdles. We are hopeful that the engineers at MTEC will develop a working de-stemmer for the chile industry within the next few months.”
Baca also is senior vice president of Bueno Foods, which produces various chile sauces in Albuquerque.
“Right now, the de-stemmer has top priority with the chile association,” said local cayenne chile producer and association board member Dino Cervantes. “We still need to work out some mechanical problems like timing on the belts.”
Cervantes is a major Doña Ana County cayenne producer.
With the computer-controlled cutter, the chile pods are sent through the machine on a 10-lane belt, and the computer produces an image of the pods and images and shows where to cut for de-stemming. Testing has demonstrated that the machine can de-stem 10,000 pounds of chile an hour, Herbon said.
The machine was designed and assembled during a four-month period last summer by six M-TEC engineers, two shop managers and 10 students.
A breakdown of the latest New Mexico Agricultural Statistics figures, 2008, show how important chile is to the state economy:
Chile production increased to 60,140 tons, 23 percent more than 2007, which was credited to producers planting and harvesting more and higher-yielding varieties of green varieties, the types that need de-stemming. Yields for long green averaged 11 tons per acre.
Green chile production: long mild, 39,700 tons, 11 tons average per acre and $15.7 million revenue; long percent or hot, 9,000 tons, nine tons average yield per acre and $4.1 million net value.
The 2008 net value for New Mexico chile was $42.3 million, 48 percent more than the previous year.
Luna County was the leading producer with 3,300 harvested acres and 23,220 tons. Doña Ana County was second, with 3,200 acres and 20,600 tons.