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Getting our act together – for the industry

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By Jan Lievens

My last two published articles created quite a storm and to be honest, that was the whole idea. I didn’t want to beat around the bush.

A major complaint from farmers is that they cannot get good prices for their produce. Image credit: Jan Lievens

A major complaint from farmers is that they cannot get good prices for their produce. Image credit: Jan Lievens

Just to be clear from the outset – my articles are always written with the idea to help the industry and what happens in the fields, the farm, the people who pay for everything, and the message was and still is clear – face the situation, it is that simple.

Also read: An inconvenient truth revisited

It is time the industry gets its act together in this sector. Go back to the drawing board and start doing the right things, from the start. It has been in the open for over 50 years, so why this stubborn attitude of refusing to go back to basics? Go and implement the root cause analysis method, stop chasing symptoms!

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The actual quality problems with your commodities can obviously be looked at providing you supply a top-quality product at the time of harvest.

Talking to an industry leader in the refrigeration field, the message was clear, “people just keep copying and pasting, not always taking modern technologies into consideration…” And they are right, the modern technologies are there, they simply do not find their way into the industry on a big scale.

It is really time that people sit back and reflect on what is all written down in the world, and locally on what to do when you work with fruit, flowers, or vegetables.

Also read: Postharvest reflections…

Every university, every institution, every company writing protocols on how to manage fresh commodities, every specialised publication is saying the same thing, repeatedly, for 50 years. Still, people simply do not listen to the loads of available information. Why?

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It cannot just be resistance to change as the resistance that is surfacing year after year for over 50 years could be an ideal scenario for a new comedy series. I think we could write a script worthy to compete with ‘Alo, Alo’ and ‘Fawlty Towers’. Only problem is that this is a tragedy instead of a comic adventure.

A carton designed by Jan Lievens allowing for the correct required airflows. Image credit: Jan Lievens
A carton designed by Jan Lievens allowing for the correct required airflows. Image credit: Jan Lievens
Poorly treated products in the supply chain. Image credit: Jan Lievens
Poorly treated products in the supply chain. Image credit: Jan Lievens
A carton designed by Jan Lievens allowing for the correct required airflows. Image credit: Jan Lievens
A carton designed by Jan Lievens allowing for the correct required airflows. Image credit: Jan Lievens

The amount of product lost due to mishandling after harvest, going into the cold chain, or transportation before it reaches the clients overseas is nothing short of scary. Recently a professional of one of the biggest fresh commodity companies in the world was talking of around a value of 10%. Can you even imagine how much that is? Lost produce equals lost revenue and useless costs that go down the drain, year after year. Why? Because people simply do not want to listen and do not implement existing information and systems into their processes.

Do you really think that I find it funny or comical that I must point out that proper airflow carton designs have been available since 1976, printed by UC Davis in a book that to date is still available with a couple of reprints along the way? Pull yourself together! Nope, I do not find it funny. And although some people think that I am stirring the pot just for fun, I am not.

What is more scary for me is that there is still no direction in this respect which would give the farmers the correct tools to avoid a heck of a lot of problems as well as the fact that the industry professionals’ reactions often baffle me:

“Airflow designs are not our priority…”

“We changed the openings to accommodate the stickers…”

“We ‘flapped’ the openings to the top and bottom to accommodate the name of the farm in the design…”

“We used your IP, but changed it to accommodate the marketeers…”

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All I would like is that the industry starts using the resources, methods and people’s philosophies that have been grafting over the years, to be effective.

The really interesting and funny part is that the top two clients of one of the top international exporters in South Africa delivering table grapes, are farms using our postharvest philosophy in harvesting their produce. So too is the top table grape producer supplying excellent quality (and ranked number 1 in quality at this stage) supplying to a supermarket in South Africa.

Further, one of the largest private table grape growers in the Hex Valley that supplies the far-East with their top-quality products do too, and the top producers of worldwide recognised blueberry exporters. Coincidence? Nope.

And guess what, all the above farms still use the ‘old’ traditional cooling tunnels and designs for their end-cooling. So, the philosophy of tackling the root cause from the moment you split mom and offspring works.

It’s just scary that there are still forces out there that desperately want to defend and mark their territory like animals to advertise their domain, be it with scent, visual or auditory. And they will go all out in defending it too.

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By writing about that, I do not make myself popular in certain spheres, but I am not a politician, and I therefore do not need to harvest votes and/or look out for election times. One day this will all be worth it. That day will come, despite the resistance to change.

The industry will see that this is, as always, done in a positive light to help the farmers get more satisfaction from all their challenging work.

About Jan Lievens

Jan Lievens, born in Belgium, is a graduate civil engineering(B) and international senior consultant for engineered applied postharvest technology at UTE South Africa. With over 20 years of experience in this field, he is widely regarded as a specialist in the fruit-, vegetable- and flower industry with regards to humidity, airborne bacteria and ethylene removal, both locally and internationally. Furthermore, he also designed airflow-friendly packaging systems for the industry with proven results.

Jan Lievens, born in Belgium, is a graduate civil engineering(B) and international senior consultant for engineered applied postharvest technology at UTE South Africa. With over 20 years of experience in this field, he is widely regarded as a specialist in the fruit-, vegetable- and flower industry with regards to humidity, airborne bacteria and ethylene removal, both locally and internationally. Furthermore, he also designed airflow-friendly packaging systems for the industry with proven results.

 

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