Spuds sorted

By Grace Jones | posted on March 1, 2019

AUSTRALIA’S first optical potato sorting machines were officially switched on last week in Bornholm and will be able to scan, assess and sort 10 to 15 potatoes per second.

Owner and inventor of the Sortop machine, Daniel Pitton, was at the Ayres family property to help fine tune the sorter and said both of the sorters would be able to get through a combined total of six tonnes of seed potatoes per hour.

“We use LED and infrared vision to scan and help photograph each potato that goes through the machine,” he said.

“The potatoes are fed onto an accelerator that travels three metres per second.

“When the potatoes are in the air they are photographed so the computer can assess them.”

Mr Pitton said the machine and program took 20 years to develop in Switzerland and was designed to mimic a brain.

“We sort potatoes in a subjective way depending on our appreciation of the beauty in the potato,” he said.

“We are able to teach the system what we appreciate in a potato and it will copy that appreciation.”

Mr Pitton said the machines would take human error out of the equation when sorting potatoes.

Farm manager Chris Ayres said they received the sorters in November but weren’t able to start using them until this month.

“These sorters will drastically improve our operation’s flow much more efficiently,” he said.

“In recent times our tonnage per hour hasn’t been where we want it to be and we would be left with 1000 to 1500 tonnes left to be sorted.

“We started harvesting about six weeks ago and with these machines we should be finished everything by the end of May.”

Mr Ayres said despite the trade barriers between Western Australia and the east coast just prior to Christmas following an outbreak on Tomato-Potato Psyllid in February 2017, it would still take a few years to recover fully.

“It can take three to four years for new varieties of potatoes to hit supermarkets so we’re needing to predict what the market will want in five years now,” he said.

“There’s a lot of guess work and risk factor.

“We have around 65 new varieties over 120 hectares at the moment.”

Mr Ayres said in his opinion the good old royal blue was the best potato on the market.

“It’s a pretty good allrounder,” he mused.

“It’s great for chefs and households and does some pretty nice chips.”