At Halls’ long-established Mataffin packhouse outside Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, the fully integrated fresh produce company has completely revamped its avocado packing line by installing the very latest in optic sorting technology which now optimally grades five different Greenskin varietals as well as Hass avocados.
The Aweta line, which was already designed to optically grade and sort Hass avocados, has been adapted over a period of months and with the help of an Aweta technician onsite. The software has been taught through algorithms to now sort and grade Greenskin avocados as well.
“We presented the system with large numbers of samples, ensuring that the various different cull factors and insect damage present among South African avocados were all included. It was a quite complicated process to teach the system to distinguish between the markings,” explains Mark Baker, Halls operations director.
“Together with our service providers and other major industry players, we are perfecting the system and it has come an extraordinarily long way in the last two months.”
Volumes down but quality is “superb”
Last year the Mataffin packhouse had to run three daily shifts to cope with the record harvest which is considerably smaller this year. The new fully automated system can now, during a single shift, handle as much fruit as two shifts could on the previous pack line with incredible accuracy. “This allows us to ensure that we are able to supply our customers with superior quality fruit on time every time,” says Mark. At the moment the facility is set up to run at 12 tonnes per hour, but this can comfortably go up to 14-15 tonnes per hour.
“This year the quality is superb and with the increased grading accuracy, although volumes are down we are achieving better packouts."
Learning from top fruit packhouses
The Mataffin pack line is able to easily switch between batches of Greenskin and Hass avocados which is quite unique in the global arena. There is bulk bin handling into a water transfer system for soft handling of fruit, ozone treatment, automatic box filling and stacking.
“There has been major investment in our avocado business over the years and we continue to invest in innovative technology to ensure long term sustainability and to remain at the forefront of our industry,” Mark continues.
“It is important that we improve our efficiencies in packhouses and become more mechanised,” Mark notes. “We’ve been learning from the apple and pear industry where they have been doing this for some time, and now we’re applying it to avocados.”
The investment justifies itself based on current avocado expansion and the fact that greenskin cultivars still make up a significant portion of many growers' portfolios, despite the fact that most new plantings are Hass and that a 70:30 split in favour of Hass will probably eventually establish itself in the South African industry.