The technology for automation and sorting capability in the apple industry keeps improving and results in improved production as well as fruit quality.
Suzanne Wolter, of Evans Fruit Company in Yakima, Washington, shared how recent updates in their automated packaging and sizing operations have increased production and helped to ensure their fruit is of the optimal quality. She gave a brief overview of how their system functions.
"Apples initially enter the packing facility via a water dumper system," Wolter explained. "Bins full of fruit are submerged into water and the apples float gently to the top, exiting the water flume on soft rollers. They continue their journey through multiple production areas via soft brush rollers or water flumes to be cleaned with soap & water, waxed, sorted, graded and packed. Sorting and grading of fruit is handled by sophisticated machines which separate the fruit according to size, color and grade via weighing and internal & external optical identification technology."
Recent updates improve production capacity
In the last year, Evans Fruit Company have either installed new packing lines or updated their existing lines with the aim of improving efficiency and defect detection. The company uses both Greefa and Compac sorting systems.
"Both equipment systems that Evans Fruit utilizes are similar in many aspects," Wolter noted. "However, we found Greefa to be more readily adaptable to apple lot conditions and accurately identify various internal defects when analyzing multiple sizes coming through the system. Greefa systems were initially developed for apples’ gentle handling requirements during the sorting process in the ‘40s while looking for a faster and more efficient way to grade fruit than by hand. Improvements over the decades have been continuous with more efficient technologies."
Wolter said that the improvements over the last year have helped increase production capacity, as well as allowing more time to be spent on presentation, as uniformity is more reliable. "The improved technology has increased our packing line efficiencies and taken the subjective human decision making aspect out of the equation," she said. "Updated systems in our facilities over the last year have increased our production capability by 20% – 25%. Computers are programmed to accurately select grade based on external defects, size and color; they also monitor for internal conditions sending that fruit to the cull or processor bins. This has brought more uniformity to the pack and allowed the individual packers to focus attention on overall box presentation. Pack consistency has improved immensely overall, between warehouses and lots."
Helping to refine field practices
It's not just at the packing end where this technology plays its part. Evans Fruit carefully monitor trends and common issues as the fruit goes through the process. Joe Evans, head of Orchard Operations, explained that this helps to identify areas where adjustments can be made out in the field, based on discoveries made during the sorting process. This, in turn, helps to maximize yield.
"We monitor the reasons fruit is rejected by the machine and track those culls to each specific orchard and location," Evans said. "For example, we know that bitter pit is most often the result of a calcium deficiency. We analyze our nutrition, pruning, thinning, harvest and chemical application records to determine how to best adjust our horticultural practices leading into the next growing season."
One of the main benefits, and indeed the primary focus, of constantly improving packing and grading technology, is the knowledge that quality standards are maintained. Wolter said that one of the biggest factors of the company's success is that customers can be sure they will receive consistent quality. Aside from good farming practices to begin with, growers can utilize these high quality grading tools to help achieve this benefit.
"Customers recognize the lack of problems with fruit packed in the Evans Fruit Company brands of Top Red, Galaxy, Flavorcrest and Rainbow, among others," Wolter said. "We hear regularly that once they place an order with Evans, they can walk away and forget about it knowing it will ship as requested and arrive without issue."
For more information:
Evans Fruit Company
Tel: +1 (509) 678-4127