By Gerrit Rautenbach
It might be so that growing and nurturing fruit until those beauties are harvested is the essence, the stress and the risk of farming fruit. But not the essence, the stress and the risk of the actual business of fruit. To really make it happen, one has to complete the cycle. From the farm to the consumer. Irrespective of how far apart they might be.
In June of this year, Hortgro presented the Fruit Farming 101 Post-harvest symposium, particularly aimed at newer entrants into the deciduous fruit industry. The importance of storing fruit in order to help complete the circle from farm to the consumer was addressed by Jacques du Preez and Mariëtte Kotze of Hortgro.
Making a success of fruit farming involves being aware that your consumer is not down the road at the local village fruit store, but is spread out all over this global village called Earth. Take apples for example 44% of South Africa’s apples are exported. That’s where the real money is. But export quality is stringent. So in order to get your fruit from here to there in prime condition, the correct processes and treatment become paramount. Storage and prolonging the life of the produce is key. One of the best-proven ways to help ensure this is to opt for controlled atmosphere (CA), and all its derivatives, storage as a complement to the regular atmosphere (RA).
“Controlled atmosphere storage ensures that the oxygen involved in the process is lower while the carbon dioxide and nitrogen are higher, resulting in a longer, better storage life,” Mariëtte explained. Apart from that, all the countries competing for a slice of the (apple)pie are using CA, making it the industry standard. However, because they are all using it, it means South Africa’s window of opportunity becomes smaller if everybody is jockeying for the same market.
“That’s why we had to look for alternatives outside Europe. In 2008 58% of our exports went to the UK, Europe and Russia and only 38% to Africa and the Middle and the Far East. Today it’s 35% vs 62%,” Jacques explained.
The concept of CA dates back as far as 1821 in France where Jacques Berard at the Académe de Science wrote a paper on the alteration of fruit respiration by changing the composition of the atmosphere surrounding the fruit. Over the years it went from strength to strength in Europe and the USA, but really only kicked in in South Africa when Two-a-Day built the first jacketed CA stores for the 1979 season for about 7 000 bins. Four years later, in 1983, the then Deciduous Fruit Board exported the first apples from CA storage. Today the industry can handle around 1 500 000 bins. An increase of 30 000%. It’s a bit more than an apple a day.
Prime quality, huge distances and lengthy time periods. Coping optimally with these elements ensures a good end product. Ensuring good business. CA is the key. For instance, some apples like Golden Delicious can be stored for as long as 10 months without a drop in quality. A variety of storage methods are used, including controlling the atmosphere, inhibiting maturation and pumping cold air over the fruit.
Yes, CA is a huge tool to help ensure a prime end product, but most importantly, CA cannot improve the quality of the fruit you put in. A bad apple will not become a good apple. Therefore the quality and maturity of the fruit you put in CA storage needs to be managed meticulously. Otherwise, it becomes very expensive juice fruit. CA is a great tool to optimise income but has associated risks. It’s about managing quality while balancing supply with demand.
At the end of the day, it’s all about satisfying consumers all over the globe with great tasting fruit all year round. The completion of the cycle.