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Ceres Fruit Growers adds new sorting facility increasing capacity

Ceres Fruit Growers (CFG) is one of the largest employers in the Witzenberg Valley, with a daily apple and pear packing capacity of 886 tons. The company has 134 cold rooms which can store 180 000 bins in Controlled Atmosphere (CA) and Dynamic Controlled Atmosphere (DCA) environments, which allows for the marketing of fruit in later months, and 125 000 bins in a Regular Atmosphere (RA) environment at -0.5°C, for more immediate marketing opportunities. The harvest window for apple and pear producers stretches from January to May, during which the receiving and storing capacity of CFG reaches over 4 000 tons a day.

The recent infrastructure investment at CFG is aimed to aid in the effective management of these supply peaks. This investment includes an upgraded packhouse with two new eight-lane Greefa Combisort packing lines which can sort between 56 and 80 fruit per second by diameter, weight and defects. “This sorting system has 72 cameras taking between 4 144 and 5 920 photos per second,” says Production Manager, Joe Hanekom. New automatic palletising units are also part of the upgraded packhouse to improve the pallet’s neatness, product quality and productivity.

“The new line also brings greater flexibility between cultivars, although primarily intended to process pears rather than apples. The goal is to get the maximum cartons from the bin into the right market. We are also looking at reducing the plastic bags inside the cartons, but only if there is no detrimental impact to the quality of the fruit,” says Hanekom.

According to Francois Malan, CFG Managing Director, production costs on farms and in the value chain are very high and increasing, “For our growers to be sustainable, we need to send the correct quality product to the market to ensure the highest possible income. In certain weeks of the year, when volume is at its greatest, we need to use the added capacity and new technology to better manage the peaks,” he says.  He adds that the biggest challenge in upgrading the packhouse was the availability of parts and the enormous increase in steel prices. According to Malan, the initial estimate for this year’s harvest was 127 000 tons of fruit, but the actual yield is closer to 140 000 tons. Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, a company wholly owned by the growers at Ceres Fruit Growers and at Two-a-Day in the greater Grabouw valley, is the largest exporter of South African apples and pears and responsible for the marketing and sale of the fruit packed at Ceres Fruit Growers and Two-a-Day.

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