Good Fruit Grower

May 15

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N ew cherry sorting and packing technology that promises to revolutionize the cherry industry is being adopted in West Coast cherry packing operations at a rapid pace. About half of California's cherry production and more than 20 percent of Pacific Northwest cherries will be packed this year by a new genera- tion of technology, say industry sources. Cherry packers in Canada are also rapidly installing new technology. That's pretty fast adoption considering some of the technology has only been available for cherries the last five or so years. California cherry packers have higher defect sorting needs than the Pacific Northwest, says Bret Pittsinger, president of Van Doren Sales, Inc., a designer and installer of packing house equipment based in East Wenatchee, Washington. "And California's high, early season prices help justify the costs of new technology. Canada is evolving quickly because their late-season margins are high." But the Northwest is not far behind. From Okanogan County, Washington, to The Dalles, Oregon, North- west cherry packers have installed new optical cherry sorting technol- ogy, are in the process of installing it, or are evaluating equipment from different manufacturers for future installation. Electronic sorters that accurately size and sort for internal and exter- nal defects have been available for round fruits like apples, citrus, and kiwis for many years, said Pittsinger. "But the holdup for cherries was the stem. It was hard to manipulate the stem so that cameras could see all sides of the fruit." The technology's significant costs also were hard for packers to jus- tify, given the short two- to three-month packing window for cherries. But today, the gates that held back small fruit technology seem to be open wide. There are a number of players with varying degrees of computerized sorting technology. Packing House Services in Yakima, Washington, was an early entrant to advanced cherry sorting technology with its Red Pearl sorter. Some of the others with small fruit technology include Unitec of Italy, Compac and GP Graders of Australia, MAF from France, and Aweta from Holland. Optical sorters use infrared or high- resolution digital cameras to take multiple pictures (30 or so) of a single fruit. Fruit are moved back and forth while under the camera so that all sides are viewed. Computers instantly analyze picture data. The number of cameras used and num- ber of pictures taken varies depending on the system's particular focus. Computers use the fruit's diameter in connection with the stem to deter- mine diameter or size—not just the widest part. Firmness, color, and defects are also analyzed. The new sorters boast up to 85 percent sizing accuracy or higher, said Pittsinger, a number up significantly from diverging and parallel row sizers of the past that achieved 55 to 65 percent accuracy. Advantages Jorge Sanchez of Northern Fruit Company in Wenatchee has two years of experience with new packing technology. As the operations manager, Sanchez says the system helps them efficiently and consis- tently pack a high-quality box of cherries and improves export quality. "It's the future of packing cherries." Being able to efficiently remove defects was a big advantage last year when multiple rain events affected quality, he said. "We were able to run some lots that were rain-impacted that otherwise would have been left in the field." And, it's not just the sorting technology that's making a difference, Sanchez said. The entire line provides a much gentler way to handle the fruit. "For us, it wasn't so much about increasing volume but wanting to do a better job of packing. We are saving on sorting labor, but our capacity now is around 8 to 10 tons per hour—much less than our past capacity that required more labor. Now, we use about 75 people, which is significantly less than before." Sanchez noted that they are limited somewhat with capacity because the new equipment had to fit in their existing footprint. Grower impact As the industry transitions to new technology, what does improved sorting capability, with its high accuracy in sizing, mean to the grower? Will it change dynamics of the market? What happens to the small fruit? Peter Verbrugge, president of Sage Fruit in Yakima, Washington, has many questions about the grower impact but few answers. Cher- ries are packed at Valley Fruit in Wapato under a partnership between Sage Fruit and Oregon Cherry Growers. New sorting technology will be installed next year. Initially, they plan to put an electronic sorter on their secondary sizing line used for export. 14 MAY 15, 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Cherries Chelan Fruit Cooperative installed a new cherry grader at its Brewster plant in 2012. The electronic sorter doesn't eliminate hand labor, but has greatly reduced the number of graders needed for Rainiers. Technology is the future of cherry packing West Coast cherry packers are quickly adopting new sorting technology. by Melissa Hansen "The technology will enable growers who are producing large fruit to be rewarded for their efforts." —Mike Taylor PHOTO BY GERALDINE WARNER

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