New Zealanders have a knack for both innovation and pragmatism and it was surely one of the horticultural industry’s greatest marketing coups when in the late 1950s, to boost the fruit’s export market sales, Kiwis renamed the Chinese gooseberry to kiwifruit.
The marketing paid off and both domestic sales and the export success story of the newly branded Kiwifruit are continuing today.
It has not all been plain sailing, the 2010 Psa virus devastated parts of the industry, creating a major setback for the export orientated producers. Since 2010 growth has been steady. Today New Zealand-produced kiwifruit were exported to 53 countries in 2018, with $1.19b (2017: $1.09b) to Asian countries, two importing more than $300m: Japan $397m (2017: $381m) and China $458m ($365m). Kiwifruit to the value of $512m ($422m) went to countries in Continental Europe.
And Zespri, New Zealand’s kiwifruit marketing body (and the world’s largest marketer of the fruit), is aiming to grow its global kiwifruit sales from the $2 billion achieved in the 2016/17 season to $4.5 billion by 2025.
The Kiwifruit industry is booming and Compac has been there from the start. We produced the first Kiwifruit sorting machines, revolutionizing the industry with accurate, high speed sorting to ensure both the consistency and quality of export produce.
Since Compac’s first offering some 30 years ago the industry had grown and changed exponentially. We have seen the introduction of new higher-value varieties such as the ‘golds’, with many growers moving over. With a new variety come new challenges, and the increased vulnerability of the gold varieties to bruising means that the gentle handling abilities of sorting equipment is vital to maximize packout and profitability.
And it’s not just the crop that’s changing – the way we pack is also changing. The kiwifruit industry has become a victim of its own success, increasingly struggling to attract the manpower needed to support growing export demands. International students, international working holiday workers, and those entering the country on the Recognized Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme, are all seen as crucial for meeting the shortfall in domestic labor supply. However, such offshore labor sources can be vulnerable to changes in immigration policy.
Technology provides a vital role in reducing the dependence on large volumes of labor and is driving a rapid adoption within the packhouse. Today’s modern operations are leveraging robotics, data analytics, and cutting-edge sorting and grading solutions, inching ever closer to a ‘lights’ out’ fully automated operation.
Last week we held a Kiwifruit industry day, bringing together a dedicated group of growers and packers to discuss the technological innovations that we have been working on, and to explore what will shape the next thirty-years of growth.
There are many factors that affect the ability to successfully pack kiwifruit and the objective of maximizing the yield from every bin. During the event the Compac team outlined some of the key challenges that their R&D Team have been focusing on, including:
Enhanced Shape Grading: Grading out square or flat kiwifruit has been a challenge that Compac has focused on this year. Through a combination of camera positioning and calibration, and significant changes to image processing algorithms we have significantly improved the capabilities of Compac Spectrim. The results mean that we can now deliver a 95+% accuracy with better Class 1 control and the ability to pack Class 3 directly.
The solution improves ease of management, with a in intuitive interface and removes problems with ‘wobbly’ or poorly rotating fruits.
New SmartGrade Functionality: This significant feature set will provide strong benefits to the Kiwifruit industry, allowing packers to fine tune the grading process and to better target specific defects. SmartGrade abstract the image capture process from the image processing algorithms, this allows multiple passes of the same image. Defect sets or individual defects are assigned to separate inspection passes with each pass performing the full inspection process.
Using multiple passes of the same image improve accuracy and simplicity. This is achieved because each pass is optimized for the exact defect that you wish to grade, and you are no longer trying to identify multiple defects in the same area in a single pass.
SmartGrade delivers a granular level of control and significantly improved grading accuracy.
Near Infar-Red: We have been focusing on improving the performance of internal Kiwifruit grading through our UltraView inspections systems. In a recent test of 1500 fruit over a seven-week period we were able to show performance level comparable to the Plant & Food ‘Blue Box’ (the industry standard for NIR). This was an impressive result consider the production environment under which the Inspectra2 was tested, compared to the static nature of the Plant&Food test rig.
In addition, we have also been working on the dry matter challenge and this study is now returning some promising results. In recent testing we were able to show strong correlation and we will continue to focus on the dry matter challenge in 2020.
Box filling: A packhouse is only as fast as its slowest component. The faster box filler initiative created specifically for the Kiwifruit industry. We have made significant enhancements to our box filler to significantly increase pack rate whilst maintaining gentle handling.
The innovations that we are introducing allow a reduction in manual packing, a reduction in the number of outlets in use and improved system stability and usability. Overall, we are now able to deliver an increase in throughput by 100%+
Digital Innovation: Compac’s data and integration solutions track and record all produce as it crosses the sorter. This information can be shared with other packhouse systems for improved operations and reporting. Advances in Smartline, our supervisory control and data acquisition (“SCADA”) product are bringing significant benefits to the industry. It provides unrivalled line control and automation by leveraging Compac’s expertise in post-harvest solution and intimate knowledge of the industry leading Compac sorting solutions and grading platforms.
In addition, we have continued to evolve the Tomra Insight platform a secure, nearly real-time monitoring platform for your sorting lines, with a web interface for desktop and mobile devices. Wherever and whenever you want, you can access digital metrics about the status and performance of your sorting equipment.
Compac’s next generation sorter: The new Compac Sorter is based on the industry-leading MLS multi-lane sorter but incorporates technical developments to further enhance hygiene and food trust – critical for Kiwifruit packhouses. The new platform also future proofs packhouses in case of tightening food safety legislation and more demanding market expectations.
The new platform is capable of sorting a wide variety of fruit to an exceptionally high degree of accuracy. Designed from the ground up to meet the needs of modern packing requirements, the new platform delivers industry leading performance for weight, size, gentle handling and throughput.
Service & Support: We believe service isn’t just about fixing something that’s broken.
It’s about maintaining high availability and reliability to ensure maximum uptime of your substantial technology assets. To support our vision, we have just launched a QR Code system that provides instant access to safety, training and maintenance requirements specific to the part of the machine scanned. Where issues can’t be resolved a ticket can be created and logged with the Compac Customer Care Center. This innovative new process puts the right information in the hands of your employees and helps drive machine uptime through improved maintenance practices.
Individually each of these innovations can deliver significant benefit to the Kiwifruit Industry and combined they are set to make a significant impact. This is just the start for Compac and going into 2020 we are already working on improved sensors, cloud connected systems, packhouse optimization/stability, and workflow.
Looking back on 2019 the innovation for the Kiwifruit industry has been impressive and is set to accelerate into 2020, supporting the Zespri growth ambition of to $4.5 billion by 2025.