• Jan Lievens

Nature never breaks her own laws…

Updated: Jan 11

The abovementioned phrase is not from us but from Leonardo da Vinci, who at the time did a lot of things, but applied postharvest technologies were not one of them.

But what he said is true and especially applies here.

In the September issue of the magazine, I wrote an article on ignoring problems which can lead to more serious problems.

The article sparked some reactions especially when I also stated that the industry must learn to face challenges head-on. It is true in a lot of cases for a lot of things, and I realize and know that a lot of you did face challenges and tackled them in various ways and often head-on.

One thing however you must remember is that I always write my articles purely from a postharvest perspective.

In general, the Covid-19 pandemic did throw a heck of a lot of challenges around and is still doing so as I write, and my hat goes off to those who adapted and survived. Really.

We have been writing some excellent articles on our specialty: applied postharvest technologies.

The word “special

ty” is used as in our field, it should not just be about selling machines, it is about bringing workable and proven solutions to the table.

That fact is important, Cees Nijssen, who sadly died in July this year, once said to me: “the postharvest field applications can either make or break a farm.”

He was right. You cannot take a chance with the implementation of technologies that are not proven and do not have a proven track record. It does not matter how big the companies are that want to sell it. Postharvest technologies is a very specialized field and the slightest oversight will cost you dearly. Focus is the key factor.

We embarked on a campaign to emphasize the importance of the postharvest philosophy on our three focus areas: fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

I fully agree that I have been writing a lot on the Table Grape industry first and foremost, but you better believe me that much is valid for ALL fruit.

In fact, it is amazingly simple: your fruit, vegetables or flowers will not reach your client in top quality by chance, but by changing your postharvest approach, philosophy, and procedures.

Most farmers worldwide, in general, try to grow the best possible product in the orchard. It is really that simple.

95% of all her or his efforts are put into this, in some instances for well over 8 months. Often the last 5% of the process gets forgotten and then we are talking about hours after harvest. Yet, the last 5% is responsible for 99% of the farm’s income.

Let me explain and let us take the table grapes as an example as I was invited twice to Egypt to explain our philosophy with regards to grapes.

In a discussion on a farm in Egypt on the fruit quality, I went into one of their orchards after the harvest season and took pictures of grapes that were still on the vine after they “cleaned out” the vineyard for commercial production. In fact, the orchard was already losing its leaves.

The fruit that was still there, apart from being extremely sweet of course, was still connected via a perfectly healthy stem to the mother plant.

When I showed them what was happening, the farmers fell on their backs in disbelief.

Why? How on earth is that possible? Why do we have problems when we sell our product? Why do we have QC problems? Why? Why? That is simply not possible. It is.

Because nature never ever breaks her own laws. So why is it that after a good couple of months the grape stem is still intact and when you harvest it is dry after a couple of days?

Because you “think” you are doing the right thing and you cause damage in the initial stages after harvest that is irreversible.

Damages done in the Cold Chain to your product after harvest are cumulative and irreversible.

For over 50 years, scientists, researchers, universities, technical institutions, and technical research facilities have been studying and writing about it, yet, in the field, it is still happening. Every 10 years someone else is making a study over the exact same problem.

There is damage and loss that occurs each year, simply because people still take chances and do not look at the root of the problems that occur.

You cannot take chances. It is that simple.

It took me many years to understand the fact that it is remarkably simple, you must just understand nature. That is all.

Everybody knows the famous industry phrase; an uncooled table grape deteriorates in an hour @ 32°C as much as in a day @ 4°C or a week @ 0°C.

On face value, that’s a very straightforward rule. If you lose time you lose quality.

Still, the industry seems to be battling with this concept and a lot of time is lost after harvesting the table grapes in the field.

That is suicidal. If you lose four hours in cooling delays, you lose four weeks’ shelf life.

Simple. In many cases, 4 hours is putting it mildly.

Not only that, but if you know that a grape stem dries out 15 times faster than its berry, you better take notice.

All too often delays in the orchard, harvesting at far too high temperatures at the wrong time of the day, delays in transfer time to the pre-cooler, improper precooling with too low RH, low RH, too high windspeeds, no bacterial control, driven by fast output forgetting temperatures, long packing procedures, wrong airflow carton design, delays in cooling, transport without protection, containers not at the right temperatures, inadequate loading procedures, containers not monitored for temperature and humidity during the voyage, bad pallets and inadequate packaging material are just a few of the issues at stake here. And they are all in the last 5%.

Again, and again it is amazingly simple: your fruit will not reach your client in top quality by chance, but by changing your postharvest approach, philosophy, and procedures.

That is valid for all fruits, vegetables, and flowers, not just table grapes and we have proven that over the many years with many customers and with many products.

Keeping on doing the same year after year expecting a change in quality is pure insanity.

Recently, a well-known senior table grape technical specialist from one op the top companies dealing with fruit, told me that if the industry would apply our philosophies on the farm after harvest, 50% of all export quality claims would disappear in South Africa. And then we are talking about a production of around 60 million cartons a year… Makes one think.

They already know in Egypt and are talking to us to implement our solutions together with our philosophy. Tried. Tested. Proven. Simple.

A couple of months ago, a well-known agricultural journalist wanted to write an article on the alleviation of dry stems in the table grape industry and the positive results and success we achieved in this respect. She was blocked in her efforts and ordered to “leave it alone”.

That is what I meant when I said: “Face your challenges head-on and look at the root causes of your problems”

If you want to farm in the future, you have no choice. The farms that supply quality will survive; the ones that don’t will get eaten instead of selling an edible product. And if you are honest you know that the client is already picking out PUC codes that do not give them stress.

I’m sure you don’t like stress and you want to avoid it. Again, do something about it, change your attitude on how you look towards your business.

If you do not, somebody will. Face the challenge head-on.

We more than ready to help the industry with proven solutions that do tackle the root of your postharvest problems.

Jan Lievens

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