By Jan Lievens
Recently, when I was discussing our applied postharvest solutions, a table grape farmer told me that they, “never ever pack table grapes with dry stems in a box… so, what is my problem?”
That statement made me think. I was flabbergasted… Is it me, or is it me…?
Goodness, gracious me, of course nobody in the industry packs table grapes with dry stem, split berries, burst berries or botrytis. Or stone fruit with shrivel… or apples and/or pears with shrivel or woody stems for that matter. Or any other quality issues whatsoever.
Obviously, no weight losses in controlled atmosphere (CA) rooms or quality loss… No, everybody packs top quality in the boxes at the farm, simply because our farmers are some of the best in the world when it comes to growing a quality product on the vineyards, orchards or fields.
Any product does indeed get packed at the farm, but normally it doesn’t get unpacked at your backdoor is it! Why is it that in the same industry we are talking about now, there are claims (and plenty of them), year after year. Damages, losses with dry stem, split- or burst berries, botrytis, shrivel, weight- and quality losses?
Are they holograms, or some imaginary mental-issue images perhaps?
And please, for those of you who still pick early “to get a longer shelf life”, you often deliver a fruit which is immature, has got no taste and, to be quite honest, is often a horrible piece of… produce.
The problems lie in the conditioning of your product after harvest. Simple. And there you are playing with 99% of your income as I have mentioned in many of my previous columns. The industry, however, just keeps on fiddling and struggling with tackling the last postharvest trajectory correctly.
Well, its time to call a shovel a shovel, a spade a spade and stop beating around the bush. The postharvest trajectory needs to be looked upon in a holistic way by examining in detail the 24-36 hour period after harvest.
Some of the carton and packaging designs that I see in the field are, simply put, silly and stupid, and on top of it are creating huge problems due to internal condensation being created.
All the studies have been done, for years. The knowledge is there, written down, published, and if you know and understand it, it does make you humble. You will respect the correct postharvest treatments and unbreakable cold chain requirements, unless you are ignorant, arrogant, or both…
Arrogance indeed makes you ignorant, as well as ignorance makes you arrogant… Simple.
When will our industry that professionally consults our farmers see the light?
The first printed evidence of proper carton designs dates back from 1976. That is over 46 years ago, and we are still accepting these completely idiotic airflow designs today! Really?
I’ll give you some proper engineering advice to go and look at the research, efforts and developments Formula 1 engineers do in the airflow field. If they would apply the airflow principles that are being used by the carton manufacturers, Max Verstappen would drive faster in reverse than forward.
Some suppliers did nothing this year yet again to address the root cause analysis and chose to leave everything as it was last year, and all the years before that.
Fine, no problem at all, but check what Albert Einstein said about that and quickly go and look for psychological assistance as you will have the same problems as last year and the years before.
The tragic part of this melodrama is that it probably will stay the same and will for the coming years as well, if producers survive this suicidal carrousel Russian roulette game of course.
Believe you me, if you do it right, for once – the light in the tunnel shouldn’t be the one of your bank managers hunting you down… If you do it wrong, just go to your bank and hand over the keys voluntarily.
The horse has been brought to the water many times. It is just a matter of you wanting to drink from the water and implement the presented solutions.
Let us call a shovel a shovel and a spade a spade. Take your wheelbarrow and start moving it!
About Jan Lievens
Jan Lievens, born in Belgium, is a graduate civil engineering(B) and international senior consultant for engineered applied postharvest technology at Humiditas 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.