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Safj 2023 04 Hi Tech Postharvest Research
April / May 2023

Hi-tech postharvest research

SA Fruit Journal: April / May 2023

Agricultural engineer and postharvest researcher Prof Bart Nicolaï recently spent six weeks of his sabbatical at Stellenbosch University (SU), in the Department of Horticultural Science. By Anna Mouton

Prof Bart Nicolaï heads up the Postharvest Research Group within the Biosystems Department at the University of Leuven in Belgium and is the director of the Flanders Centre of Postharvest Technology, a public-private partnership between the University of Leuven and the Association of Belgian Horticultural Cooperatives.

"The first time I was here was about 25 years ago," recalls Nicolaï, "and I thought Stellenbosch looks like a nice place to do scientific leave." He reached out to Prof Karen Theron, then head of the Department of Horticultural Science, and ended up moving to Stellenbosch with his family for three months.

He spent the visit developing novel calibration methods and collecting experimental data needed to interpret near-infrared spectroscopy results in fruit. Back then, near-infrared spectroscopy was a new technology, and almost no one was working on it, says Nicolaï.

Subsequently, he published a review with Theron and others on non-destructive measurement of fruit and vegetable quality using near-infrared spectroscopy – it has become one of his most cited papers.

Today, near-infrared sensors are commonplace. Growers in Belgium even use portable near-infrared spectroscopes to measure the physiological maturity of fruit and predict optimal harvest times.

"There aren't many universities in the world where you have this combination of physiology, technology and engineering in a postharvest context," comments Nicolaï. "Leuven is one, and Stellenbosch is the other one, and this is why we get along quite well."

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