“Take me to your Braeburn”
English apple growers are among the first in the world to use robotic technology in order to drive efficiencies across the entire production process. In a technological transformation of the industry, this year’s crop is the first to benefit from these recent developments.
English growers, competing in a tough market, are utilising the latest technological innovations to produce apples as cost-effectively as possible whilst maximising taste and fruit quality. Today, the first day of the ‘official’ English apple season, and when the most popular apple varieties are beginning to appear in the shops, marks a further advance in the continuing growth of the English industry.
Famed for generations for their unrivalled flavour and taste, this year’s total crop of English grown eating apples will reach 160,000 tonnes, the highest tonnage in over 20 years and will contain the largest amount of both Gala and Braeburn varieties ever produced.
The 2015/16 crop will also see the highest yield of very newest varieties including Jazz, Zari, Kanzi, Opal, Junami, Cameo and Reubens – collectively 45% higher than last year. In recent years the changing ‘palate’ of British consumers has demanded sweeter, juicier and crunchier apples together with more vibrant skin colour than traditional varieties.
Whilst automatic technology is used for the precise weighing and packing of the apples at the end of the production process, this represents only one element of the new technology which is shaping the industry.
How technology is propelling the apple from the tree to the till… in seven stages
In modern orchards apples are grown on a continuous ‘hedgerow’ system instead of widely spaced trees making picking more efficient and increasing yields
Pruning, as well as thinning of the fruit when in blossom, is partly undertaken by machines to reduce hand pruning and thinning.
Picking of the apples is now undertaken by pickers who stand behind safety bars on trailers that form a train pulled by tractors. Each trailer carries a bin into which the picked apples are placed thus eliminating time lost by walking to bins and allowing pickers to reach the entire crop without the use of ladders.
When apples reach packhouses they are now graded by high tech cameras. Each apple is photographed more than 50 times to check for its size, shape, colour, blemishes and other irregularities. Any discarded fruit goes to cider or juice making. Simultaneously, an infra-red system is used to check the inside of each apple, without penetrating the skin, to ensure there are no internal defects.
The water used to move the fruit in the packhouse is now filtered and then purified by UV light which enables it to be used for up to six months, rather than being replaced every few days, thus effecting a huge saving in water.
The storage of the apples takes place in low oxygen, temperature controlled, specialist chambers which are computer controlled to maintain constant conditions. This reduces the speed at which the apples mature, effectively putting them into hibernation so they are maintained in peak condition and do not rot or become over-mature.
Weighing and packing of apples into poly bags is undertaken by automatic systems, whilst robotic systems are being used to handle packed boxes of apples and to load them onto pallets ready for transportation to customers.
Adrian Barlow, Chief Executive of English Apples commented “These high tech innovations show the continued investment by the industry and the commitment to produce apples in England of the highest quality. Whilst continuing to retain and even develop further our world beating flavour we need to be employing every modern technique to produce apples as cost –efficiently as possible. We urge consumers to look of the Union Jack label on apples – their reassurance that they are buying the finest tasting apples whilst supporting both local and the national economies.”