Deciduous fruit industry via Hortgro
The Department of Horticultural Science has had a very long and close relationship with the deciduous fruit industry, currently managed through the industry body Hortgro. The relationship has developed from a loose one between one or two staff members to a more formalised relationship that is currently governed by a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between Hortgro (Pty) Ltd and Stellenbosch University (SU). The SLA is between SU and Hortgro as more departments at SU are involved than just the Department of Horticultural Science.
The relationship has grown to the extent that Hortgro has allocated R 3,600,000 for 25 research projects to the Department of Horticultural Science for the 2020/21 financial year (1 October 2020 - 30 September 2021) for projects to be completed by researchers situated at Dept Horticultural Science. In addition, Hortgro has a seconded researcher, Dr Xolani Siboza placed in the Department of Horticultural Science. Dr Siboza currently has three MScAgric students under his supervision.
Also, Hortgro contributed 80 % to the salary of Prof Karen I. Theron, the Chair in Applied Pre-harvest Deciduous Fruit Research, but she retired on 30 September 2021 and this position is currently vacant. The relationship is built on mutual respect and the researchers at SU are seen as important cogs in the wheel that maintains the sustainability and growth of the deciduous fruit industry by producing under- and postgraduate students that successfully plug into the industry, by solving industry problems through research and to land this research through technology transfer at field days, seminars and symposia.
Deciduous fruit industry via Tru-Cape™
SARChI Postharvest Technology has been closely collaborating with Tru-Cape™ in several research studies in integral containers. A project worth R574,294.40 aiming to establish the capacity of integral containers to handle apple and pear fruit at pre-optimum temperature, destined for export by sea, is currently running.
We accomplished one export trial on deployment of loggers to measure interior – air temperature, humidity, and fruit core temperatures during loading, shipping, and unloading of Golden Delicious apple fruit from South Africa (port of Cape Town) to Nigeria (port of Lagos, Tin-can).
The readings for the ambient temperatures and fruit core temperatures started on the 2nd of December 2020 and concluded on 24th of January 2021. Fruit firmness, sugar level, colour, moisture loss, and decay incidence were measured at the loading and unloading ports.
Citrus industry via Citrus Research International (CRI)
Citrus production, packaging, and distribution is a technology-intensive industry that depends on developing long term alliance partners to develop a science-based answer to industry identified research priorities. A long-standing key alliance partner of CRI is the Department of Horticultural Science, which help CRI to fulfil its industry mandate as reflected in the CRI mission: to maximize the long term global competitiveness of the southern African citrus growers through research and technical support services.
The industry’s research and technical service continue to operate under the CRI Group Alliance model and the successful levy implementation during 2021, has enabled an expansion of the current industry-relevant research at the Department. Via the Citriculture portfolio of CRI is currently funding five MSc students, two at Soil Science, a PhD student at Logistic, and two MSc at engineering faculty.
The three seconded researchers, Prof Paul Cronje, Drs Pieter Raath, and Tarl Berry are directly involved as co-study leaders in al these students projects. During 2021 eight research projects to the value of R1 610 576 were funded and undertaken by the CRI seconded researchers in the Department. These projects focused on topics such as nutrition, crop manipulation, fruit quality, and temperature management improvement in containers and involved five postgraduate students.
In addition, in 2021 Dr Pieter Raath completed a new handbook on fertilization of citrus trees under southern African conditions. Key aspect relative to growing conditions was discussed at workshops held in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Western and Eastern Cape citrus production areas.
Subtropical fruit and nut industry via SAAGA and SAMAC
A collaboration agreement between SAAGA, SAMAC and Stellenbosch University (SU) has formally connected the SA Avocado Growers’ Association (SAAGA) and Macadamias SA (SAMAC) with the Department of Horticultural Science since 2020.
This past year has been the second offering of the new third-year level module in its current format, with the aim to introduce students to the relevant aspects (local and international industries, plant material climate interaction, crop management and fruit quality) relating to production of avocados and macadamias under South African conditions.
Historically, SU has not been closely and directly involved in subtropical research, but with changes in the traditional production areas to now include the southern parts of SA, it is the opportune time for the Department to include the production of subtropical crops in its module offering.
Four research projects were initiated during 2021 with 2 projects each funded by SAAGA and SAMAC, respectively. These projects focus on both production and post-harvest challenges faced by the subtropical industry and had a combined value of R 471 327 for 2021.
Pomegranate industry via the Pomegranate Association of South Africa (POMASA)
Significant increases in reefer freight rates have placed substantial pressure on the fruit export industry to find new and innovative ways of improving the space / volume use of fruit in reefer containers. This creates a need to provide packaging ventilated carton for storing and transporting the produce that is more economical to store and ship.
The proposed solution has a huge commercial potential in the South African fresh fruit export sector. Initially the business will focus on fresh fruit packaging solutions to the Western Cape, South Africa.
Aiming at innovative and future ventilated packaging solutions, SARChI Postharvest Technology has been closely collaborating with POMASA to develop an integrated postharvest innovative solution for optimum fruit maturity, storage management, and scientifically defined quality parameters of the pomegranate fruit.
SARChI presented a new multi-layer ventilated carton design for the pomegranate industry. Currently, application has been made to INNOVUS, Stellenbosch University for Pre-seed funding. The requested R200,000 budget for the semi-commercial trail of the new pomegranate packaging cartons was granted in September 2021.
This project would be the Spin-out route to handle the IP management, business planning, market research, building the innovation team and industry collaboration for packaging solution in the fresh fruit.