As orchardists are picking their apple crops this fall, Peter Toivonen, a researcher studying post-harvest physiology, is working to make sure the apples look and taste as good as possible when they reach the grocery stores.
“I’m the bridge between the grower and the consumer in the end,” he said. “We’re always trying to deliver the quality we need at harvest.”Toivonen is a researcher at the Summerland Research and Development Centre, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada facility.
His research includes methods to ripen apples on the tree and to handle them properly once they have been harvested.
“We have to manage a lot of different issues,” he said.
The fruit, its maturity at harvest and the storage protocols all can affect the apple.
Much of his testing at present involves the Ambrosia apple, a variety from the Similkameen. This variety is extremely popular in North America and it fetches a good price for fruit growers.
Some of Toivonen’s research has been in the orchards, working with reflective row covers.
Row covers are sheets which are placed on the ground in orchards to increase the amount of light exposure in the canopy of an orchard. Various sheets have been tested and Toivonen said a white row cover has been demonstrated to work most effectively.
The cover helps to change the colour of the apple. He explained that an Ambrosia apple with more of the red colour will bring a higher price for the grower.
However, the colour alone is not the only factor he studies.
“Growing a nice apple on the tree is not the end of the story,” he said.
Technology exists to help fruit growers determine when an apple is mature enough to be harvested. The level of maturity will affect the quality of the fruit.
Once the apple has been picked, the storage protocols will affect its appearance and quality when it reaches the retailer and the consumer.
Some varieties, such as the Sunrise apple available early in fall, are chilling-sensitive and are best kept at cold temperatures.
Toivonen also looks at the quality of apples after storage.
“If you do everything optimally, you will not hear a complaint from the retailers,” he said.
Adrian Batista, a co-op research assistant at the Summerland Research and Development Centre, measures the maturity of an apple. Research at the centre is examining how to ensure fresh, good quality fruit reaches the consumer.