SOUTH AFRICA – Cherry Time, a South Africa- based Agro-company, has positioned itself very well for the coming cherries harvesting season with an investment in a new packing and handling facility for its main operations in Ceres in the Western Cape.

The 5,000 square metres air-conditioned facility in the region is equipped to pick, pack, and ship six million kilograms of cherries seasonally. The facility features three hydro-cooling systems and a fully automated Unitech packing machine that can process eight truckloads of cherries daily.

It also houses 45 high-definition cameras that take 15 pictures of each cherry from three angles to determine the exact size, shape, color, and stem length. In addition, the cameras can pick up the tiniest defect and accurately determine the texture of the cherries.

The new facility is also fully automated, ensuring no human hands need to touch the cherries again after picking them off the trees, which is said to be gentler on the fruit and results in fewer defects and damage.

Gysbert du Toit, head of marketing, DuToit said: “The facility will be especially beneficial this season, coinciding with the cherry producer’s extended harvest in January 2023. The disadvantage of extending the harvest season is that there are only a few orchards left, which leaves an even smaller margin for error. Thankfully, our new facility will ensure our cherries hibernate adequately enough to maintain this precious fruit’s integrity and reduce the likelihood of spoilage,” adds Du Toit.

“Cherries are non-climacteric, which means they don’t ripen after they’ve been picked from the trees, unlike bananas and apples. So, this fruit must be harvested tree ripe, measured to ensure it’s the right color, size, and sugar level, and transported to the cold room facility as soon as possible.”

The new state of art automated facility will also shield the company from global warming, which has seen regional temperatures increase and rainfall patterns change, such as uncharacteristic rain in early spring and late summer across Cherry Time’s Western Cape farms.

Du Toit explained that the severity of rain has been significantly higher in the past few years, harming the delicate cherry fruit. Too much rain causes the cherries to crack in the trees, leading to post-harvest losses which the company is trying to address in South Africa.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates from 2011 suggest that as much as 37 percent of food produced in Sub-Saharan Africa is lost between production and consumption.

For post-harvest handling and storage loss only, the FAO estimate is 8 percent, and the African Post-harvest Losses Information System (APHLIS) estimate is 10-12 percent.

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