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Hibernation keeps apples crunchy

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Netherlands has a lot in common with New Zealand; both are nations of growers with a can-do attitude that sees top-line technology developed based on need and experience.

An even greater synergy is that both countries grow pip fruit. While over the years the focus in Holland has moved to pears, the presiding fruit in New Zealand is the apple.

Hawke’s Bay is the biggest pip fruit growing region in New Zealand (63 per cent of New Zealand’s annual 604,5000 tonne apple crop) so it makes sense for Kiwi growers to team up with their Dutch counterparts on one of the most challenging areas of the pip fruit industry: storage.

It is not just about chilling fruit, it is about controlling the C02 and oxygen inside the cooler to hold it in the best possible state - essentially putting it into hibernation - until market conditions are optimal; which could be any time over the 12 months after the crop has been picked.

Eric van der Zwet, from Besseling Group, and Johan Muis, from Salco, are in Hastings this week, to see their state-of-the-art controlled atmosphere (CA) units in action at two major sites in the district, hosted by systems installer Hillmac Electrical.

Besseling’s CA system allows conditions to be altered to suit different apple varieties. Just how to work out the optimal conditions for each variety is a science in itself. In New Zealand Plant and Food Research has post-harvest scientists working on exactly that.

"Our system can be very finely tuned, allowing growers to keep their fruit in a just-off-the-tree-state until the best time for selling; and it will still have its crunch. That’s crucial," says Mr van der Zwet. "Keeping apples in the traditional cool room for too long means that apples lose flavour and crunch, and therefore value."

It is not only important for export. In today’s market, supermarkets want consistent delivery over time, with the consistent quality. That is very difficult to achieve with traditional cool rooms, said Hillmac’s Tony McKenna.

The Besseling family has grown pip fruit in Holland for generations, so they know what they are talking about.

They had been working on the technology since the 1980s. "Controlled atmosphere storage is not new technology, but our system has huge advantages, not least that we work with two other companies focused on gas-tightness - which is the key to the whole system."

He is talking about Mr Muis, whose company Salco has made gas-tight doors for more than 40. Salco is leading the technology, making the only doors with inflatable seals that are 100 per cent gas-tight without the use of grease or any other material to seal the door properly. "The gas-tightness is a very important component, said Mr Muis. "You cannot keep the conditions inside the room at optimal levels if you have air leaks."

The third business, Ribbstyle, provides a flexible gas-tight coating for the inside joins of the cool room.

"The interior joins of the cool rooms have to be coated with the seal in order to ensure total gas-tightness," said Mr Muis.

In New Zealand, the fourth critical partner is Hillmac Electrical, which has a team fully trained in the installation, maintenance and managing of the systems.

The Besseling Group and Salco representatives met with industry leaders on Monday night after taking a tour of facilities that already had the units installed, said Mr McKenna.

Hillmac had installed 42 CA rooms at two sites (Crasborn Group and Bostock New Zealand) in the region, choosing to go with the Besseling-Salco-Ribbstyle team, based on their strong success record and ability to provide training and service. "It has been brilliant to have two major growers already take up this technology. What sold it to them, I believe, was that they could have confidence that that although the manufacturers were off-shore, they would still get the top-line service you would expect when making this kind of investment," said Mr McKenna.

The size of Hawke’s Bay’s apple industry makes it a logical fit for the technology. It is the largest apple growing region in New Zealand and the industry contributes more than $200 million to Hawke’s Bay’s GDP. With more than 3000 people employed in the industry, its success is important to the whole region.

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