Technology and innovation in the produce industry is not new and no doubt many produce professionals have witnessed a lot of changes in their time. While many new technologies focus on the physical aspects of planting, growing, harvesting and packing, there are also innovations with a focus on the produce quality itself.
This is where Felix Instruments - Applied Food Science has stepped in. The company, which is based in the Pacific Northwest, designs and engineers instruments for the agricultural and environmental fields and they are now focusing on the next step in quality meters. Scott Trimble, Marketing Director, discussed two new product lines Felix Instruments is working on to help producers monitor the quality of their commodities.
The current F-750 Quality meter is able to measure a variety of commodities
Commodity-specific quality meters
One of the product lines Felix Instruments is progressively launching is commodity-specific quality meters. These are based on the F-750 Produce Quality Meter, which estimates different quality parameters such as dry matter, Total Soluble Solids (TSS or brix), titratable acidity, and color, using non-destructive near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy. The F-750 can be used for multiple different commodities, but the company is now introducing commodity-specific meters, starting with the F-751 Avocado Quality Meter.
"We are developing a whole new line of commodity-specific quality meters which are an iteration of the F-750," said Trimble. "A lot of work and modeling has gone into making the F-750 a success but we have also found that many companies want simpler tools, preferring the 'Plug 'n Play' instruments that our commodity-specific meters will be. At this stage, we are working on bringing out quality meters specifically for avocados, mangoes, kiwifruit and apples. The F-751 Avocado Quality Meter is about to be released, with the schedule for the other commodities something we are still working on. The modeling behind each meter is different for each commodity, which will result in a succinct, purposeful instrument."
Trimble added that one of the advantages of the quality meters is the non-destructive and instantaneous measurement which is in contrast to current methods. "The previous method to determine avocado dry matter, for example, is to take samples from across the entire orchard. From these samples, the core is removed, weighed, then put into a dehydrator before being weighed again. Not only is this destructive, but it can take days to obtain a result. Now with the spectrometer, the operator can just point it at the fruit, taking just seconds to perform the analysis and get a result. This is the direction we are going in and our goal is to have an entire line of commodity-specific meters."
The upcoming F-751 focuses on avocados, with more commodity-specific quality meters to follow
Working with Fruit Maps
Another of the features of the new meters is the ability to collate the measured data with the Fruit Maps app. The idea of Fruit Maps is to enable growers to know how each part of their orchard or field is doing in terms of fruit maturity. With the data collected from measurements out in the field, the quality meters will essentially be the source of this data, with Felix Instruments engineering the instruments to work with Fruit Maps.
"Fruit Maps is where everything comes together from all the data collected in the field," Trimble explained. "The more data that gets compiled, the more useful the app is. With it, growers can narrow down exactly where and when they need to harvest."
"Data has been collected and analyzed for many years, but the key is to transform that data into something useable and easy to access," he continued. "This is our intention with the combination of the commodity-specific quality meters and tying them in with Fruit Maps."
Meters for storage monitoring
The second line of new instruments that Felix Instruments is in the process of developing are instruments for use in storage and ripening rooms, called AccuStore and AccuRipe. The purpose for this new line is to measure the various gases that are present in these rooms and used to keep produce fresh or to ripen fruit for example.
"The other line we are just starting to ramp up is being designed for growers, distributors and storage companies that need to measure gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and ethylene in storage facilities," Trimble shared. "The idea of controlling the atmosphere has had a tremendous impact on the produce industry, allowing many commodities to be available throughout the year. Our tool is an instrument that allows the manager of a facility to monitor and manage its environment, all on the one interface."
Trimble said the way this will work is by placing the instruments on sensors, tanks, and other environmental control equipment in order for the program to produce readings and for managers to be able to balance the various gas levels as they wish. Additionally, Felix Instruments will enable this to be done remotely if necessary.
"Managers will have the option to input a 'recipe' for different products depending on their needs," he said. "Once they find the balance that works for them, they can use that over and over again. Ultimately, it reduces spoilage and creates consistency, which improves the bottom line. There will be three basic versions - one for ripening rooms, one for storage facilities, and one for de-greening rooms, because each of these have their own specific gases."
The meters are due to be launched in early 2019.