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Sa Fruit Journal June July 2021 Smart Technology Main
June / July 2021

Smart Technology : Tracks and traces how avocados move through packhouses

SA Fruit Journal: June / July 2021

The way avocados are handled in the packhouse has a direct impact on their shelf life and the state in which they arrive in the consumer’s kitchen. Technology now exists to quantify packhouse performance and to pinpoint areas to improve fruit quality.

Sadly, 2019 was not an exceptional season for the local avocado industry. It lost R8.4 million in that year when, due to poor product quality, more than a million kilograms of fruit was processed to oil and guacamole, instead of being sold as fresh fruit. Indeed, quality losses have cost the avocado industry vast amounts of money every year. Fortunately, new technology developments can solve the quality headache.

Smart technology breakthroughs

Agriculture and civil engineering are not usually regarded as partners, but the University of Pretoria is proving the contrary. A collaboration between the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology; and the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences resulted in data-logging devices that enable a better understanding of the farm-to-table journey of avocados.

Having successfully developed the data-logging technology, the university, the Postharvest Innovation Project and the South African Avocado Growers Association (SAAGA) joined forces to advance its application. The goal was to determine the potential of packhouse operations (and possible packhouse optimisation) to reduce postharvest losses, along with lowering the postharvest stress associated with mechanised packlines and high-volume processing.

The research project was registered by Prof. Wynand Steyn, Head of the Department of Civil Engineering, and Prof. Lise Korsten, Co-Director of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, University of Pretoria. The Post-Harvest Innovation (PHI) Programme and SAAGA each contributed R232 043 towards the project.

The study was managed by André Broekman, who is currently doing his PhD in railway engineering, as an auxiliary project. He was supported by a team of principal investigators consisting of Dr Malick Bill, Sarel Coetzer, Dave Ventura and Abrie Cilliers.

The investigation

Six smAvo devices were placed in 24 packhouses across Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal during the 2021 harvesting season, to obtain around 139 datasets. The participating packhouses varied significantly in terms of age, capacity and degree of mechanisation.

More than 12 million acceleration measurements were recorded from the smAvo loggers, providing data on (among others) the time avocados spend on the packline, the bumps and falls they experience (impact forces) and handling conditions.

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