Postharvest Handling for Organic Farming
Organic produce requires very careful postharvest-handling strategies. For good or for ill, this is a premium product, and even aesthetic compromises on quality affects its salability. More importantly, there's the food-safety issue, as improper handling at harvest can spread pathogens and other contaminants, which is clearly unacceptable for organic farmers and their customers.
Here are a few things every farmer should consider when making a harvest plan for organic produce:
You can't improve produce quality after harvest, so it's crucial to maintain the condition of the fruit or vegetable just as picked.When you separate a fruit or vegetable from its parent plant, you cut off the water supply. As produce loses water, it begins to wilt and lose turgor pressure, which provides the characteristic firmness of a well-hydrated fruit. Heat speeds up the process. Essentially, produce begins to lose quality the instant it's harvested, so farmers need a well-developed plan to ensure a quick flow of produce to packing facilities.
Organic produce may not be bred or manipulated for things like shelf stability and resistance to mechanical damage.Organic produce is often more vulnerable to insects, decay, and even bruising than chemical-treated and genetically modified crops. This requires greater care during harvest and throughout the food supply chain to provide optimal quality at the foodservice outlet and, ultimately, the dinner plate.
Timing your harvest to avoid hot temperatures prevents wilting and spoilage.The University of California's Vegetable Research and Information Center recommends that farmers harvest their crops during the coolest part of the day, often in the early morning. This helps to reduce lost moisture, preserving the just-picked quality that consumers prefer.
The faster you can move harvest bins from the field to a refrigerated packing facility, the better.You might have noticed a theme, here. Upon harvest, it's best to move produce directly to the next step in its journey from farm to fork. Farmers who work on the commercial scale can accomplish this goal by picking into bulk harvest bins, picking up those bins with a forklift or a tractor with lift forks, and rushing the load along predetermined routes straight to the packing house.
Use produce-handling equipment that won't bruise or crush the harvest.Farm staff must be gentle with produce, but to really cut down on damage, you need material handling equipment that can lift, transport, and empty harvest bins with a delicate touch. Forward Bin Tippers from Solus Group transform a lift truck into a dedicated harvest-bin-handling machine. With one of these dumping devices attached to the tractor, farmers can reduce the number of touches to their produce, limiting opportunities for damage.
In order to earn the USDA Organic seal, farmers must ensure that their products don't contain unapproved substances. For farmers who grow some crops organically and others with chemical fertilizers, it's best to keep harvest bins for the organic fields separate. This avoids potential contamination, protecting organic products from losing certification after the next USDA inspection. One way to safeguard against accidentally using the wrong harvest bin is to use a different color bin for each field type and different colors for organic and non-organic crops. Workers should then be trained to the correct colors during harvest.
While quality begins with the seed, postharvest handling strategies shepherd the crop through a crucial point in its journey to the consumer, ultimately leading to a better product and better meals wherever organic produce is on the menu.
"Behind the USDA Organic Seal." USDA. United States Department of Agriculture, Apr. 2018. PNG. 20 Aug. 2018.
"Organic Farming Practices: Postharvest Handling." UCDavis. University of California Vegetable Research and Information Center, n.d. PDF. 20 Aug. 2018.