Maximizing Apple and Peach Profits with Preventative Bruising Practices
Although harvest is one of the most frantic times of the season, peak harvest time needs to be balanced with preventative practices to help ensure that the crop has optimal quality for satisfying consumer demands, and to ensure profitability of the operation. The degree of fruit quality can be highly determined by the preharvest, at harvest and postharvest practices in an orchard. Profits can be maximized by producing appealing fruit, by minimizing fruit damage and loss.
One crucial factor, affecting both internal and external quality of fruit that needs critical attention is bruising. Bruising occurs when the fruit has been compressed and/or impacted by forces in a concentrated area of the fruit, causing an external and internal injury affecting the quality of product (Fig. 1A, B). Undoubtedly, bruising is a common defect that is faced when growing fruit, but there are multiple management principles to put in place to decrease the amount of these damage. This article covers practices and procedures that should be adopted throughout critical points from harvest to storage, so that the probability of bruising can be reduced to the minimum and thus effectively increase profits and fruit marketability.
Properly Harvesting Peaches and Apples from the Tree to the Bin
A key source of bruising occurs from apples absorbing high loads of energy. By providing pickers with proper tools for harvesting, the magnitude of energy possible for the apples to absorb one would greatly decrease. Workers should be provided with a hard bucket with a soft, padded interior (Fig. 2). If the bucket is dropped, the hard exterior absorbs outside en-ergy, while the interior protects the apples from the hard exterior. To properly wear the bucket, securely strap over the picker, mid chest height. The hands-free style provides stability to the picker, while they mount and dismount the ladder. These buckets can generally hold ½ to 1 bushel of apples. Another practice to incorporate is the use of three-legged aluminum ladders. Researchers found that putting two-legged ladders against the tree damages it and results in a greater amount of unnecessary bruised fruits.
While picking apples, field hands should perform the following preventative picking techniques to reduce bruising:
Handling the fruit like an egg
Securing the harvesting bucket
Checking the quality and stability of the ladder
Holding fruit in the palm of the hand and roll upward until stem snaps from tree. Never “pluck” the fruit from the tree by pulling it off (Fig. 3)
Slowly placing their hand inside bucket fol-lowed by releasing the fruit
Unlike apples, peaches are less sturdy, and harvesters need to adjust harvesting and handling practices. When harvesting consider the following techniques to reduce bruising:
Squeeze gently if necessary to gauge firmness
Large peaches located at the top of the tree, ripe first
A ripe peach will easily depart from the tree. If effort is needed to pluck, leave the peach on the branch
Use the sides of the fingers instead of fingertips
Pull peach straight off the branch
Place gently into the basket
Most of these practices depend on the pickers motivation to uphold procedures. To ensure that preventative measures are upheld, it is suggested to have an active supervisor in the field to watch over and award incentives and/or penal-ties towards appropriate harvesters. One method a supervisor can implement is that each field worker picks a box of apples, then labels the box with their name. Place the box of apples in the cooler. Then the next day have the field worker sort and analyze the apples to identify where bruises developed and see if there is a correlation between bruising and finger placement. This activity will show the field hands how their picking affects the quality of harvest.
Hauling the Bins of Peaches and Apples Safely Out of the Orchard
After harvesting the fruit, the bins will be trans-ported to the outside of the orchard via tractor. The type of tractor and wheel quality depends on the growing area to minimize the amount of energy transferred from tires to the apples in the bins, while balancing with terrain. In addition to the prevention of bruising, by choosing the appropriate tire to tractor ratio, the overall yield of the crop can be increased (Fig. 4). It has been reported that without proper distribution of weight, the compaction of topsoil and subsoil from tires can decrease production yield up to 10%.
Moving the Bins to the Exterior Loading Docks of the Orchard
If the edge of the orchard is close to the destination from the previous section, the transfer can be combined in one step to minimize contact of the fruit. If distance is too large and damage would be predicted by using the tractor, then the recommendation is to use a multi-bin trailer. To reduce contact with fruit and to effectively transport fruit from tractor to the trailer, instead of hauling bins individually, use a multi-bin conveyance system to safely transport large amounts of fruit. If individually carrying the bins is the only option, ensure that the load is not too heavy, and vision is not impaired to prevent tripping and dropping of the crop. Other precautions to implement is ensuring the loading area is as smooth as possible. Potholes or large defects in the road increase potential energy the apples can absorb.
Loading the Bins with Fruit to the Truck
When transporting the fruit from the loading dock to inside the truck, be sure to keep in mind maximum load weights and an obstacle free area while carrying bins. Bulk bins can be used in storage. The problem with using bulk bins is the limitation of weight restrictions; however, they allow the easy and safe movement of fruit through a forklift. If possible, use rubber-tired forklifts to transport a copious amount of fruit.
Transporting the Fruit Bins to storage via Truck
The most significant concern when transporting fruit in a truck is the quality of roads. Rough roads produce large bumps, then energy transfers to the fruit inside inflicting damage to the fruits, which will subsequently getting bruised. By properly training truck drivers to avoid roads with destructive defects, one can reduce the potential damages to fruit. In addition to choosing the smoothest roads, drivers should be trained to drive the speed limit and how to use air cushioned brake suspicion system, effectively decreasing the amount of road shock available to the fruits. Pallets and/or bins used in the truck must be of good physical condition as poor condition pallets could topple over during transport.
Hauling Bins to storage via Forklift
The area used during this transportation stage should be paved smoothly. The forklifts should be equipped with shock-absorbing suspension to again, reduce the amount of energy transferred to the fruits. If the transporting area is not smooth, shock-absorbing suspension is especially important as well as trained drivers to take precautionary actions to avoid rough areas.
This article appears in the July 2022, Volume 13, Issue 4 of the Vegetable and Fruit News.
Vegetable and Fruit Newsis a statewide publication for the commercial vegetable and fruit industries and is published monthly during the growing season (April through October). Subscribers will receive an email with the latest edition.