July 23, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman

Cantaloupes roll through a conveyor at the Green River Produce Marketing Cooperative on their way to grocery produce sections. As they move across the line, an electronic system makes the counting easy.

The cooperative, in its sixth year, has aided farmers in their efforts to diversify their incomes and has made inroads into cabbage, cantaloupe, seedless watermelon and pumpkin production and marketing.

The effort has been one that’s brought together the expertise and support of many people and organizations including local leaders, farmers, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Agriculture Development Board, Kentucky Farm Bureau and Commodity Growers Cooperative.

 “The unique thing about this is that everyone’s sort of ripped the curtain apart and said let’s work together on this,“ said Chris Clark, Hart County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. “The cooperative is a good example of practical assistance UK provides.”

Co-op general manager Michael Gentry said Clark has been involved since the co-op was only an idea.

“From farming to the paperwork of it, he’s helped us,” Gentry said.

As part of its efforts to assist the cooperative, the biosystems and agriculture engineering department of the UK College of Agriculture has advised the co-op on building renovation, layout and cooler design/ installation.

Currently, UK agricultural engineer George Duncan is putting the finishing touches on improvements to the electronic counting system for its cantaloupe sorting line. When the grading line machinery was purchased it contained only limited electronic counting displays that required a worker to walk the line to view eight or nine counter displays and hand record the data for each farmer, Duncan said. The machine had to be stopped between farmers, slowing production and requiring additional labor.

“When you’ve got 45 different people’s melons going through it, it gets to be a lot of numbers to keep up with,” Gentry said.    

Duncan said as the cooperative grew it needed and wanted more accountability and quicker counting capability with cantaloupe processing. Cantaloupes are sold per piece unlike cabbage that is sold per pound, thus the need for a tabulating system, he said.

With improvements developed and installed by UK, the number of cantaloupes for each farmer and their grade are displayed in real-time on the office computer and it gives an immediate printout as well as keeps a season record.

“It’s pretty simple on paper if you understand circuits but its taken trial and error to figure out some things and get it all to work,” Duncan said. “Some of my colleagues in the department were most helpful because they have used these data modules for years in research. So they provided essential data module and programming expertise for the circuits and software.”

“We are tickled to death with the new system,” Gentry said.    

“It has made my job so much easier,” said Sammye Jo Monroe, GRPMC operations and personnel manager. “The computer tells the counts, I don’t have to run around worrying about counts. It’s so much easier to take the data, process it into a spreadsheet and have all my totals there at the end of the day instead of trying to figure – and punch in on the calculator with the tape – how many melons each farmer had.”


Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Sources: George Duncan, 859-257-3000 ext. 115; Chris Clark, 270-524-2451