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Italy: Divano - an experienced persimmon grower
Who could imagine that a tree could produce two types of fruits depending on whether it was pollinated or not? Two fruits indistinguishable to the untrained eye and to which experts must pay maximum attention too? This is made even more complicated by the fact that fruits can be partly pollinated or not.
This is the most peculiar and less known characteristics of persimmon plants. Non-pollinated fruits are called Tipo, while pollinated ones, which therefore have seeds, are known as Vaniglia. Before being eaten, the former require a ripening period to decrease the natural tannin content.
Comparison between Tipo and Vaniglia. They can only be distinguished by the different ripening stage. In normal conditions, an average 20% of the fruit from a same plant can be pollinated.
It's therefore no surprise that processing costs are rather high, i.e. around 70 eurocents per kg, as the operation requires great skill, specialised labour, accurate sorting, ripening time and technologies as well as suitable packaging.
"When my father uprooted his peach orchards in 1998 to plant persimmon trees, the locals thought he was a fool," explains current administrator Domenica "Mimma" Divano. Her father learned about growing persimmons from his own father and older brothers. Persimmons are available between October and mid-November, with the Rojo Brillante variety available until February.
Domenica "Mimma" Divano
Between 2014 and 2015, Divano planted 15 hectares of Rojo Brillante. The first fruits should become available this year, as trees take 3 years to start producing. The remaining orchards (50 hectares owned + another 50 owned by partners) are destined to traditional plants.
New Rojo Brillante plants. Below: detail of Rojo Brillante fruits.
"We thought Vaniglia would be replaced by Rojo Brillante, but there are more and more retail chains requiring the former, as they are sweeter and more delicate," explains Domenica, stressing however that these fruits are only available towards mid and late November.
This year (2017/18 campaign), harvesting started slightly late, but volumes should be in line with previous years at 3000 tons despite the summer drought. Production manager Lino Basilicata reports that they "saved production by irrigating night and day."
In the meantime, the first fruits were harvested on 28th September 2017. Trees require two or three operations before harvesting is completed, meaning 100 workers will be needed between harvesters and warehouse operators.
Above: fruits still on the tree. Below: first harvesting operations
The facility originally covered 1200 square metres, but has since extended to include new ripening units.
After a first brushing phase directly in the orchard, fruits are graded with a handling capacity of 1000 kg an hour.
"Once graded, the produce must be divided into Tipo and Vaniglia. The former is then placed in ripening units for 36-60 hours. All units are opened every 12 hours to check the ripening stage and lower the humidity level if needed." Ripening can be affected by temperature and external humidity, sudden hot/cold changes and the ripening stage when fruit is placed in the unit - it requires a lot of skill for the process to be perfect.
Additional sorting is necessary when fruits come out of the units. Operators are very important in this phase, as they must distinguish ripening stages and package fruits that are similar and meeting retailer demands. The plant is equipped with 20 packaging stations. Domenica however reports that is very difficult to find young people willing to learn the job.
Final packaging phase.
Mimma also points out that, due to the characteristics of persimmons, they need as few passages as possible before being sold. "I need to know the time it will take final traders to sell the goods as precisely as possible so I can deliver fruit at the perfect ripening stage, thus reducing waste. Stores can also help the situation by not placing persimmons next to climacteric fruits, not overlapping the produce even if in rigid packaging and not exposing the fruit to sunlight or heat."
Until 2011, Divano only supplied wholesale markets but now, also due to the crisis that hit this segment, 90% of the produce is destined to retailers. "Persimmons were once considered a marginal product but it is no longer so. Consumption is increasing in northern Italy too and demand from distributors has stabilised."
The company holds the main certifications required by retailers: GlobalGAP, IFS and is waiting on Grasp. Integrated control methods are implemented. In addition to the domestic market, Rojo Brillante persimmons are also exported, to the Netherlands and Jordan in particular.
Mimma Divano - CEO and sales director
Via San Girolamo,
81037 Sessa Aurunca (CE) - Italy
Tel.: (+39) 0823 604052
Fax: (+39) 0823 604921
Publication date: 10/4/2017
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