Enrique Peña Martinez won the $2,000 prize for his work with sweet potatoes
By Diego Flammini
A PhD student in electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University is the winner of the 2022 Farms.com Precision Agriculture Scholarship Contest.
Enrique Peña Martinez won the $2,000 prize for his work incorporating a high throughput imaging and tracking system prior to dumping and sorting sweet potatoes.
“The first person I called was my mom,” he told Farms.com. “Her birthday was Oct. 13 and I found out I won on Oct. 12. She said it was a great birthday present and I was super excited.”
A panel of judges selected the top three entries from the applicants. Then farmers, producers and members of the ag community voted for the entry they believed was the most practical and could provide benefits to the ag sector.
Martinez’s work focuses on trying to better understand the distribution of phenotypes (physical traits like length, weight, and width) of the sweet potatoes farmers are harvesting.
The technology uses similar cameras to what someone may find in a modern smartphone, Martinez said.
The data farmers collect using this technology allows them to make better decisions post-harvest, he said.
If clients have specific characteristics they’re looking for in a shipment of sweet potatoes, using the phenotyping technology allows farmers to provide their clients with the product that meets their needs.
“When farmers bring sweet potatoes to storage facilities, there’s an opportunity for us to use cameras and sensors to help farmers fulfill orders quicker or prevent diseases from being sent into the packaging line,” Martinez said. “Sometimes orders are delayed because there’s not enough sweet potatoes coming in. With this technology, farmers can look at the data first and then have some security that they can fulfill the orders.”
Martinez and his team have this technology deployed at some storage and export facilities.
For each truck that comes in, the top layers of the sweet potatoes are scanned before storage to get an idea of the physical traits of that truckload.
But further scanning down the line provides more accurate data, Martinez said.
“There’s another sensor placed right before sorting,” he said. “That one gives us a more accurate look at the distribution of sweet potatoes because we’re imaging all of the sweet potatoes. It helps us confirm that what we saw in the first imagine step is correct.”
Members of the ag community interested in learning more about Martinez’s work will have an opportunity to do so.
Martinez will be presenting a precision ag webinar on Nov. 9 happening prior to the 2022 Precision Ag Conference.
Anyone wishing to participate in the webinar can register for free.