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Two themes from the Shepparton Post-Harvest Seminar

Industry Best Practice
post harvest seminar themes

For a full gallery of photos from the day, click here.

On a windy 22 January, delegates arriving at Shepparton’s Woolshed at Emerald Bank were greeted with two stark reminders of the ongoing bushfires devastating the countryside. Just across the road, the massive firefighting helicopter “Elvis” sat refuelling at the Shepparton aerodrome. And APAL’s CEO Phil Turnbull, who was due to open the seminar, had to leave Shepparton early that morning for an urgent meeting with bushfire-hit growers up in Batlow.

Trust, technology and traceability

Two stand-out sessions at the seminar were delivered by Laava’s Commercial Strategy Director Gavin Ger, and Deakin University Research Fellow, Rose Elphick-Darling. They discussed the growing challenge of traceability, with Gavin focusing on the Chinese market while Rose looked at the Australian supply chain.

Gavin reminded delegates that Hong Kong and Chinese consumers are extremely interested in the provenance of apples. They want to know the story, “meet the farmer” and get to know the brand. Quality packaging is seen as a strong indicator in China of a quality product, with labelling a key factor.

There’s a reason Chinese consumers are interested in provenance, packaging and labelling: the counterfeit market is booming. Counterfeit products will not only cut into Australian exporters’ margins, but they will erode trust, and come with a whole host of food safety concerns. 50 per cent of all food in China is imported, and for 27 per cent of Chinese consumers, food and trust is their biggest issue. Brands that are able to offer the greatest trust and transparency will win. For Gavin, the concept of “integrity systems” goes well beyond traceability. It involves:

  • Authentication
  • Provenance
  • Biosecurity
  • Certification and compliance
  • Cross-border protocols and data flows
  • Protocols for packaging.

This is a challenge that is not going to go away, which means growers will have to invest in solutions such as “smart fingerprinting” to combat counterfeiting and protect the integrity of their product. Unfortunately, the quality and technological sophistication of counterfeiters continues to rise.

Rose presented on Deakin University’s research into end-to-end food traceability, which responds to challenges including the verification of food pedigree, product integrity, track and trace, and chain of custody. The main enabler of end-to-end traceability is the sharing of data all along the supply chain, with standardised data protocols/formats to overcome the challenges of incompatible systems. Rose points out that data is collected at multiple points along a product’s journey, including the farm, the processor, the exporter, the journey from processor to port, the shipping port, the destination port, the journey from port to distribution centre, the buyer processor, the retail store, and finally, the consumer. There’s an enormous opportunity for data sharing which would help not only the grower, but every player along that supply chain.

Data visibility will enable:

  • Better monitoring of the product, particularly helpful in product recalls
  • Improved regulatory compliance
  • Identification and verification that a product is authentic
  • The creation of a “licence plate” on the product that is visible along the supply chain and globally recognised.

Post-harvest treatments

Another key theme that emerged at the post-harvest seminar was the latest research into post-harvest treatments and the importance of meeting customer and consumer expectations in both export and domestic markets. Growers heard from:

  • Kevin Bodnaruk (AKC Consulting), who talked about minimum residue levels (MRLs) and their implications for domestic retail and export markets. Kevin stressed that complying with Australian MRLs does not ensure compliance internationally, which means Australian growers will need to familiarise themselves with overseas MRLs and comply with them or risk losing market access.
  • Virginia Williamson (University of Melbourne) presented on alternatives to DPA, which has been used since the 1950s to control superficial scald in apples and pears. The MRL for DPA in apples in Europe is now 0.1ppm, compared with Australia’s 10ppm – 100 times more. As European MRLs tend to dictate future changes in other countries, Australian growers wishing to export in the future will need to plan for lower MRLs. Virginia took delegates through the findings of her recently-completed levy-funded analysis of several alternatives to DPA including DCA-CF technology, chemical treatments and readily-available and affordable antioxidants citric and ascorbic acids. She also reviewed the effectiveness of methods trialled in Australia and overseas for removal of residual DPA from existing facilities. Levy-paying growers can request a copy of Virginia’s project report International industry analysis for DPA de-contamination, alternative treatments and current best practice via the Hort Innovation website.
  • Tito Spaldi (Isolcell): Tito shared his expertise in dynamic controlled atmosphere using chlorophyll fluorescence. DCA-CF tech can increase pack out, reduce rot and damage to fruit, reduce internal browning, increase colour retention, firmness and flavour, and lead to longer shelf-life.
  • Birgit Wassermann (Graz University of Technology) joined delegates by video link from Austria to discuss her team’s research into treating post-harvest rots with hot water shock combined with biocontrol organisms. Read more.
  • Two speakers shared information on food safety and microbial risk: Jenny Ekman (Researcher at Applied Horticultural Research) summarised the 2019 Fresh Produce Safety Guidelines, focusing on soil amendments, water, and managing people. Elizabeth Frankish (UTAS) presented a diagnostic indicator tool that is being developed to measure food safety system performance in packhouses and identify areas for improvement.

Growers are encouraged to complete a short anonymous online microbial risk self-assessment survey to identify gaps in their food safety control and contribute data to help deliver a more accurate risk assessment model.

  • Horticultural food safety scientist SP Singh was unfortunately unable to attend, but APAL has published a summary of his work on post-harvest treatments with supercharged air to improve food safety and decay control outcomes here.

Other sessions included a report on the WA Pomewest quality and maturity testing program (Nardia Stacy), two panel discussions on managing fruit quality for domestic retail and the future of packing and storage, and a closing presentation on the changing retail (supermarket) and consumer landscape by retail expert Tristan Kitchener.

View photos from the day.

Following the Seminar, on 23 January attendees were invited along to an Orchard tour. View photos here.


Further information

Speakers presentations are now available on the APAL website under Latest Materials.

View Platinum Sponsor Tie Up Farming’s special offer from the event, available for a limited time. For more information, contact:

Roei Yaakobi
CEO Tie Up Farming
1300 944 318


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