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POTATO SORTER MAY WORK FOR OTHER COMMODITIES

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Inventors of a revolutionary mechanized potato sorter plan want to apply the technology of their patented system to other commodities, creating what they hope will be nearly "unlimited" possibilities for fledgling Sorting Technology Inc. in southeastern Idaho.

President Lynn Johnson predicts that within a year he and partner Arthur Zaltzman can deliver machines to separate contaminated corn and peanuts from healthy crops."We have already completed the operation under simulated conditions," said Johnson.

Because the toxins in contaminated corn and peanuts have a smaller density than the protein they replace, the company will use the same fluid bed system that now sorts rocks and clods from potatoes. Johnson said the system can cut toxins to less than 40 percent of the allowable federal limit.

The company also is doing research in separating fruit according to quality and ripeness.

The potato sorters use sand to separate rocks and clods from the crops. When air is pumped through the sand, making it fluid, the lower density of potatoes makes them float to the top while the rocks and clods settle on the bottom. Conveyer belts then carry the crops and the debris to separate trucks.

Demand for the American Falls company's potato sorters has been rapidly expanding with triple the work force Johnson and Zaltzman expected by this year. After putting just 11 machines into use by last year, the company plans to have its 75 employees produce 35 more for its third harvest season, and Johnson said, "We've already got most of them sold."

The owners are optimistic about the future, citing an Idaho State University market analysis suggesting that revenues could hit $20 million a year by the middle of the decade.