By Patrick D. Bonin
Branch, LA. – The test results are in, and Frugé Aquafarm’s brand new crawfish grader definitely gets an A+!
As the 2013 season’s production continues to ramp up, the farm is now better equipped to process more crawfish more quickly, which ultimately places less stress on the mudbugs and helps insure that they arrive at their final destination healthy and ready for the pot.
“The new grader basically doubles our capacity to grade,” said Mark Frugé, co-owner of Frugé Aquafarms. “We were grading about 100 sacks an hour, and now we can do 200 sacks an hour (up to 6 sacks a minute).”
That’s about 7,000 pounds of fresh crawfish moving through the new machine every hour!
And the grader not only separates the crawfish according to size so they can be sacked and prepared for distribution, but it also cleans the crawfish with fresh water throughout the process, removing grass, mud and rice stubble sometimes collected during the harvesting process.
“The grader was originally engineered for the vegetable business,” Mark explained. “Strawberries, apples and sweet potatoes could all be cleaned up and sorted by size. It’s the same for us: it just so happens our crop happens to be live Louisiana crawfish.”
To start the grading process, workers empty bags of freshly caught crawfish into a hopper on the left side of the machine, which is located at the farm’s loading dock.
The crawfish are continually showered with water and are transported along rollers, which are spaced so that different sized crawfish slip through at different points. (Smaller slots allow smaller crawfish to fall through, while the larger mudbugs move along until encountering a slot large enough for them to fall through.)
A large conveyor belt then transports the sorted crawfish to the front of the machine, where another conveyor system brings the mudbugs to an automatic sacker, which is outfitted with a scale so each sack can be loaded with a pre-determined amount of crawfish. The sacker features multiple bagging ports, so that several sacks can be positioned and ready for filling as the non-stop grading process continues.
“Typically, once the season really gets going, we do two grades: small and medium/large,” he said. “The smaller crawfish are hand-sacked, while the larger ones are transported up to the automatic sacker.”
From the sacker, the now cleaned and graded mudbugs are kept cool and moist until they are loaded onto our delivery trucks, hopefully headed to a boiling pot near you!