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Thinner Will Help Farmers

by Jeanny Llorente

Chilli Processor

Every year, New Mexico chile growers find themselves in a pickle.

In the spring, farmers typically plant more seedlings than they need to withstand unforeseen wind, salt, insect or disease damage. But as a result, plants are often too crowded by mid-season for available water, light and soil conditions. Farmers then have to hire thinning crews, usually at a high price.

In response to the high cost of hiring thinning crews, NMSU’s Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center (M-TEC) developed a mechanical chile thinner that will save farmers time and money. The prototype was made in collaboration with the New Mexico Chile Task Force.

“Right now, the thinning process is done by farm hands in the field with a hoe,” says Wesley Eaton, a design engineer with M-TEC. “The crews are becoming harder to find and the cost has increased up to $100 an acre to have a crew come in and thin.”

M-TEC design engineers

M-TEC design engineers Ryan Herbon, left, and Wesley Eaton with the chile thinning prototype they designed and built.

The thinner will provide uniform, flexible and timely treatments, and will cost an estimated $35 per acre, Eaton says. It also will help farmers get more yield out of their fields.

The machine is user-friendly. A farmer can punch in the desired blade spacing, cutting depth and sensor height on the computer screen of the prototype. The machine then makes the required adjustments.

The thinner was under a provisional patent for about a year and NMSU has submitted the necessary paperwork for a full patent. The patent will be shared by the the university and the inventors – Eaton; Ryan Herbon, a design engineer with M-TEC; and Vincent Hernandez, a member of the Chile Task Force.

“We are going to take the existing machine and make a few upgrades to it,” Eaton says. “We also are going to look at what other market possibilities the thinner may have.”

NMSU’s College of Business Administration and Economics will assist M-TEC in finding a New Mexico manufacturing company to produce the machine.

The chile pepper, considered the state’s signature crop, is found everywhere from roadside stands to large fast-food chains such as Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. In 2001, more than 17,000 acres under cultivation produced 81,000 tons of chile, mostly in the four-month span between July and October.

Once picked and processed, the chile is the state’s most valuable vegetable, raking in more than $200 million annually.

For more information: Wesley Eaton – weaton@nmsu.edu

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