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New Mexico State University

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Researchers Set to Test New Chile Destemmer Prototype

One year after seeing their first project from concept to commercial production, New Mexico State University researchers are ready to test the latest equipment designed to help mechanize the state's chile industry.

rs and researchers from the NMSU's Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center and the Sandia National Laboratories are ready to test the prototype chile destemmer in mid to late August.

"In a best case scenario, it will be three years until the destemmer will be available commercially in New Mexico," said Rich Phillips, senior project manager. "Other companies have tried making a destemmer and have been unsuccessful, but right now they are optimistic."

In short, trucks loaded with thousands of pounds of chiles would be unloaded into a giant bin. The chiles would then be rolled out evenly on a conveyor belt, where they are lined up and prepared for the destemming process.

Phillips said, at this point, researchers are still trying to determine what would be the best method for separating the chile from its stem.

"Because the chiles shouldn't be damaged, we can't have a machine that pulls the stem off the chile," Phillips said. "That leaves us with trying to figure out what type of blade we should use, or even if a laser is the answer."

However, Phillips said one of the challenges of the project is finding the technology that would line up the chiles so they are cut at the proper junction point.

"The problem is chiles come in different shapes and sizes, so we can't use something that lines up the chiles based on that," he added.

Gene Baca, president of the newly-formed New Mexico Chile Association, said he is encouraged about the progress on the destemmer. However, he said it's only part of the mechanization which must be put in place within the next few years.

"We need to do everything we can to keep the industry competitive with the influx of foreign competition," Baca said. "We need to get automated. Right now, we're dependent on too many people because it's hand-picked and hand-processed. We need to be able to compete in a global marketplace, and right now, we can't compete."

Baca, who is also general manager of Albuquerque-based Bueno Foods, estimates it will take a financial commitment of $8 million over the next three to five years in order to mechanize the state's chile crops.

"Getting the destemmer is key to mechanized harvesting," said Dino Cervantes, general manager for Cervantes Enterprises. "It's like when Henry Ford developed cars. Sure, he had the engine, but it was nothing if the tires weren't a part of it. It's the same thing. Mechanized harvesting cannot happen without the chile destemmer. They are not mutually exclusive."

Last year, the first chile thinner rolled off the line at CEMCO, a Belen, N.M.-based manufacturer which got the license from NMSU to make and market the machine. The machine uses electronic sensors to determine which plants in rows need to be cut. It was developed by NMSU's Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center and the Sandia National Laboratories.

Victor Venegas, Broadcast/Media Coordinator
July 28, 2006