Would you like to eat ‘Digital Fruit’

“In a world that needs the fruit industry to grow and gain efficiency, the question is what the digital transformation can accomplish for the industry”, says Mr Chris Komatas, Vice-President of Global Operations for Compac.  An increasing population needs less food losses and increased production. Komatas was one of the presenters in a seminar on the future of technology at the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA’s), Fresh Connections: Southern Africa Conference and Trade Show, hosted at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.   

He said vegetables and fruits together with roots and tubers have wastage of 45 percent, which is the highest of any food products. It means that almost half of all vegetables and fruits produced get wasted. He further added that digital transformation in the fruit industry can mean improvements in profitability. Speed can be improved by increasing efficiency from the farm to the consumer, especially with regard to packhouse and repack sorting. 

With sensor technology used in other industries such as collecting data from diamonds, data collected by multiple sensors is available on the internal attributes of each fruit. This can lead to a major improvement in efficiency, as data can be handled at a scale of 52 million mandarins per day. With this technology, 300 photographs are taken of each fruit, which means that data of up to 30 MB is recorded per fruit. A large sorter could generate 1,6 petabytes of data per day. (One petabyte is equal to a million gigabytes.)

The industry is investing in research to establish existing technology into fresh produce with digital transformation across industries. Komatas said digital information can open up opportunities for all role-players in the fruit industry such as growers, producers, packagers, traders, distributors and retailers. With more sorting and grading data available, growers can apply even more precision agriculture in producing their fruit. Provenance and traceability will be much better. Packhouse operations can be more productive and maintenance more predictable. 

Innovators are already moving ahead with scale and collaboration. Other industries such as financial services, telecommunications, manufacturing, transportation and healthcare informatics are providing a clear roadmap. The extent of digitization varies by sector though. In a comparison of digitization by different industries, information and communication technology (ICT) and media are the leaders with relatively high digitization, with agriculture and hunting at the very bottom of the list.

Agriculture falls in a category which is large and localized with low productivity which can transform for productivity and better service delivery.  Distribution will be more efficient, providing the right transport at the right time and retail’s last fulfillment will be aligned to the product. By implementing digital standards working groups, efficiency will lead to the following in different aspects of the fruit in industry:

  • Precision agriculture – using sorting data to inform future farming practices.
  • Packhouse operations – optimizing yield, throughput, and uptime through machine data.
  • Distribution – reducing waste through alignment of packaging and transport.
  • Retail – integrating production data with last-mile fulfillment practices.

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