Clemens GmbH has been working with Walnut Creek, Calif.-based AgroThermal Systems on field trials with Riesling wine grapes in Germany, but the technology is expected to have broader application for fresh produce.
“Thermal heat treatment will work for pest control on any plant and we should also see self-defense driven improvements in plant production characteristic of what we see on wine grapes,” said Marty Fischer, chief executive officer of AgroThermal Systems.
Besides contributing to pest control, the thermal treatment aims to aid fruit set and dry crops after rains.
The forthcoming technology, to be used in the European Union and other markets, is expected to enable treatment of trellised fruit crops with row widths of 6 to 10 feet; kiwifruit and table grapes; and most berries except strawberries.
“The equipment we have used since 2011 was not able to treat most produce items because of a lack of ability to aim the heat blast to row crops or orchard trees, and to be able to adjust to different row widths,” said Fischer, whose company has focused on viticulture uses. “The equipment being designed by Clemens will allow far more variability to adjust and aim the heat blast.”
Both companies plan to produce line equipment for the 2015 Northern Hemisphere growing season.
Since the design process began in June, it has remained unclear if row crops or orchard trees more than 8 feet could be treated. AgroThermal Systems expects to know more by the end of October.
Trials have been done on produce items as far back as 2007, but those early results were not consistent.
“Most of the work done on produce items was not science based but rather grower developed anecdotal data,” Fischer said. “Regardless, the results were encouraging as regards to pest control, yields and fruit quality. We expect to approach these crops more scientifically as we move the business forward.”