Good handling puts the cherry on top

IMPROVED handling and cool chain storage will be crucial for Australia’s cherry industry to maintain its position as a premium fruit producer according to Tasmanian orchardist Jake Newnham.

Mr Newnham travelled to some of the world’s largest cherry producing countries as part of a Nuffield scholarship tour to investigate how to improve cherry fruit quality.

As part of his tour, Mr Newnham visited places including the US, Chile, Canada and New Zealand.

Since then, Mr Newnham has used some of the information he gathered to implement changes on the family’s own cherry operation in the Coal River Valley.

As a result, the Newnhams were the first growers in Tasmania to pack cherries in vented boxes and received great feedback from customers in Vietnam.

As part of his study tour in 2019, Mr Newnham chose to focus on cherry production and processing in Chile in particular, as the largest global supplier of cherries to China.

“In the past four years Chile has jumped from producing 100,000 tonnes of cherries to more than 300,000 tonnes, while Australia produces about 20,000 tonnes,” he said.

A few years ago, Chilean returns were about $8/kg while ours were $18/kg, but it is critical that we improve quality further if we are to stay at the premium end of the market.”

While Australia’s ability to air freight quickly and efficiently to Asian markets is an advantage over the 20-day sea voyage necessary for Chile, Covid has also restricted flights and forced some local growers to ship product over summer.

As part of his study, Mr Newnham identified three key areas of harvesting, cold chain management and packaging needed to optimise fruit quality and extend shelf life.

To do this, Mr Newnham found growers must reduce the number of times a piece of fruit is handled, introduce cherries to the cold chain as soon as possible and extend shelf life through vented boxes that allow forced air cooling in the family’s own orchard, the Newnhams have now have installed a forced air cooler in their packing plant and move fruit around via cooled water flumes.

This keeps the fruit at around 8C as it travels along the packing line.In the FA cooling room, the core temperature of the cherries is reduced to 1-2 degrees as air is drawn through specially designed vented boxes.

“A big selling point for our fruit overseas is that it’s freshly picked and in the markets in a few days.”

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