Post-harvest masochists and adrenaline junkies
For most growers, waving their fruit off at the gate is like sending the kids to school.
You’ve toiled and sweated and stressed to cultivate the little darlings and now it’s up to the teacher – or the post-harvest partner – to ensure decent results at the end of the year.
Like teaching, the post-harvest game is reserved for masochists and adrenaline junkies and lots of things go on outside growers’ – or parents’ – field of view.
The success or failure of your chosen custodian largely rests on a few crucial ingredients: planning, knowing the fruit, sticking to the plan and keeping your eye on the ball.
A good post-harvest operator typically started gearing up six months ago.
A really great operator is already planning for harvests 2016-2018. In this game things change quickly, so plans B, C and Z had better be lined up for those times when things get hairy.
In cracking 100 million trays this season, Apata Group knows the shipping programme will likely extend out later, requiring more fruit to be held longer.
Aside from providing the very best cool chain possible, the Holy Grail lies in understanding the fruit attributes of each maturity area.
This relies on a combination of historical behaviour, snapshots at harvest and a continual monitoring regime throughout the storage season.
Unlocking these secrets requires investment in smart people, who’re able to devote themselves to this alone – people like Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Rain Man’.
Stick with the plan
Growers are wonderful people for 50 weeks of the year but, for two weeks, they grow horns.
It’s understandable given a year’s work is hanging out in the breeze, there’s a clamour for landing space on the runway and the story of packhouses trying to keep everybody happy usually precedes a spectacular disaster in coolstore.
However, the packer you should trust is not the one who says yes to everything
but the one with the intestinal fortitude and courage under fire to make the right big picture calls amidst all the noise.
Saying yes to waspy growers is like wetting your pants; there’s a brief moment of relief, but ultimately an uncomfortable mess to clean up afterward.
Check your packers’ history before placing your trust in them. In the end, it’s the full season Orchard Gate Returns – the exam results – that count.
No part of harvest or post-harvest can be done on automatic pilot – the fruit’s volatile, the weather’s volatile and the people are definitely volatile under pressure.
Running a post-harvest facility is like being a conductor of an orchestra on methamphetamine. Being plugged in to the key metrics and the people 24/7 is not negotiable.
So there it is: When seeking the perfect post-harvest custodian, find an anally-retentive, disagreeable adrenaline junkie.
And do make sure you like the people you’re dealing with – life’s too short not to love what you do, and love who you’re doing it with.