Monday, October 24, 2011

Peanut Harvesting: Powered by Oxen!

By Tiffanie Stone, CTI Intern

Rural farmers in Africa probably don’t have access to a tractor of any kind. However, they might have access to oxen. Sometimes farmers own them individually and other times a pair is shared by the whole village.

We were able to test accessible peanut harvesting technologies using oxen thanks to Oliver Kelley farm, a historical landmark. They provided the pair of oxen and three different plows to test. We did this so that the engineers from CTI could get an idea about the most useful design for peanut harvesting. These simple plows were used to cut the tap root and tip the peanut plant so the peanuts were sticking up. None of the plows worked perfectly but there was one that was clearly better than the other two. This is a good starting point for the engineers to work from. By tweaking the design here, the plow will be more suited for peanut digging in Africa. While there, other factors will need to be addressed such as the different soil types and the moisture of both the plants and the peanuts themselves. 

It was very exciting to be able to plow using a team of oxen. I do not recall ever seeing oxen before so seeing them respond to signals and being able to lead animals that large was very fun. The next day pictures appeared in the Pioneer Press.

Aside from oxen pulled technology CTI engineers are also working on a hand held prototype for farmers that do not have access to oxen. Currently, two prototypes have been tested and adjusted. The most important part about peanut harvesting is getting the tap root cut. After that the peanuts which all lie directly under that plant will come up pretty easily.

The weather is getting colder as this growing season is coming to a close. So far five bags of finger millet have been harvested. This is done by hand because most of the finger millet remained sterile. We will continue to harvest this until the killing frost. There is a bumper crop of amaranth. So far about 200 heads are being stored in the University of Minnesota seed house. I hope to increase this to 300 by next weekend.