When Rivermaid Trading Co. begins packing cherries April 22, it will become the latest grower-packer to join the California cherry industry’s technological revolution.
Vicky BoydFab Santos, operations manager for GP Graders LLC, said the optical grading system allows packers to find more homes for their growers’ fruit. The Lodi-based company showed off its recently installed 40-lane computerized optical sorter-grader from GP Graders, Victoria, Australia, at its annual growers party on April 17.
With a sizing accuracy of 98% and a grading accuracy of 85%, the technology should improve the packer’s and its growers’ bottom lines, said Patrick Archibeque, Rivermaid CEO. The system also should help Rivermaid Trading put out a more consistent product for retailers and consumers.
“We have two customers — our trade customers and our grower customers,” he said. “Obviously we have to satisfy the needs of both of them.
“The trade, and in the end, consumers, desire and require a consistent eating experience, and that’s what really drove us to the technology.”
Growers likely will see better returns because more of the fruit will be packed and sent to appropriate markets.
In the past, hand sorters frequently culled slightly soft fruit. Although the cherries may not have made it across the ocean for export, they could have gone to a nearby retailer.
“If there’s a market for a piece of the manifest, it’s our responsibility to capture it in the production line and market it for a return for our growers,” Archibeque said.
Rivermaid Trading gutted its packinghouse last summer after the cherry season ended, scrapping its old packing line. Installation of the GP Graders line began in January and was completed in mid-April.
At the same time, the grower-packer sent operators to Washington last season and to Chile this winter to train on cherry packing lines there.
Based on Rivermaid’s packing line configuration, no human hands touch the fruit until the final grading before it goes into the pack, he said.
Fruit bins are dumped into a tank, where water carries the fruit through cluster cutters that clip the stems, separating fruit. The fruit then moves through 6-inch PVC pipes in super-chilled water to singulation lines, which use sets of belts moving at different speeds to separate clumps of cherries and line them up single file.
Cameras then take pictures of the cherries as they pass under computers. Within a fraction of a second, computers process the images and send the cherries down the appropriate packing lines.
One or two hand graders then do a final once-over before packing.