With high tech devices steadily making their way into the commercial agricultural space, Felix Instruments - an ag-tech instrument developer - is showcasing its latest products. One of their major lines involves NIR - or near-infrared technology which is helping fruit growers and distributors to accurately and quickly measure their fruit for key metrics. The measurements are non-destructive and can now be done in the field.
Scott Trimble, Marketing Director for Felix Instruments, described the company's journey up to this point. "We are lucky to be on the cresting wave of NIR tech in agriculture," he said. "We started as a company almost 30 years ago in plant research, serving researchers at university and government-funded research programs. With 30 years experience serving the plant research community, we made the very natural leap into commercial agriculture."
"Felix has two lines of products that are readily used by commercial ag," he continued. "Our gas analyzers help personnel in post-harvest measure and control atmospheres in ripening rooms, storage and modified atmosphere packaging. Our NIR instruments enable organizations at both ends of the ag spectrum – breeders and growers on one end and distributors and retailers at the other, to non-destructively measure the quality of their fruit."
Who is NIR for?
The application of NIR technology in produce is becoming more and more popular. Growers may come to mind first. The metrics they can measure using the NIR device can help them ascertain product quality, better predict harvest dates and also help to adhere to industry regulation without the need to send samples to an external laboratory and wait for results. It is not just growers that benefit, as Trimble explained.
"For breeders, NIR can help them better determine how different applications of fertilizer or herbicide are affecting fruit quality. For distributors, exporters and importers, NIR gives more visibility into the quality of outgoing and incoming product, laying the groundwork for better decision making and cost savings. And for innovators of new tech in post-harvest, much like breeders - having NIR at their disposal assists in faster evaluation and more rapid prototyping of solutions."
Why other NIR instruments are less useful
NIR technology is not new to agriculture. However, according to Trimble, the new devices from Felix Instruments have a huge advantage when compared against other NIR products.
"Every other NIR tool on the market is negatively affected by light leakage," Trimble noted. "Fruit are irregularly shaped and this can lead to ambient sunlight entering the lens during the scan or the NIR light leaking out around the fruit. This means that while competitors' NIR instruments may work in the lab under perfect lighting conditions, they blow up in the field."
Trimble stated though, that Felix Instruments has solved this problem. “Thanks to some intelligent engineering and problem solving on the part of our engineering team, our instruments have overcome this hurdle. Our instruments deliver accurate measurements in the field, in regular weather conditions, where no others can. Which really begs the question - if you cannot use the device in the field, what good is it?"
Possibly the biggest challenge for NIR technology is getting people to accept and use it. Understandably many are resistant to change, especially as growers and other users rely heavily on non-destructive measurements and have been using the same tried and true methods for decades. However, Trimble has observed that growth in the sector is beginning to take off.
"While our instruments offer cost savings in time and man-power, in addition to delivering more data, more insight and more accuracy, there is still an up-front cost to switching, and no one likes spending money. But, our technology is truly an investment that pays dividends. As evidence, we are already seeing the tide turn toward our NIR technologies. We are experiencing month-over-month exponential growth in our NIR instrument sales and feedback from our growing customer base continues to be stellar."
Felix Instruments' devices are available from the company's website and can be supplied either directly or through one of their dedicated distributors, depending on location. Trimble concluded, "The right technologies in the hands of commercial agriculture can change the world, and we are happy to be playing a part in that."