Grading peaches by the pixel

Ryan Tregunno

If there’s a thumbprint on a peach, Ryan Tregunno knows about it. Given that 16 tons of fruit pass by him every hour, that’s quite a claim.


The Spectrim vision system installed at the family farm takes hundreds of images of the fruit as they are cradled like eggs on the packing line. From a control tower in the middle of a packing shed, Tregunno can spot the errant dent in a peach on a computer screen long before the bruise blooms in a consumer aisle. 


“It’s an unbelievable system,” says Tregunno, referring to the Spectrim line installed three seasons ago at the family farm on the fringes of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. “From orchard to the consumer package, human hands touch peaches only twice. Any defect can be pulled from the line.” 


For 10 weeks every summer, the Tregunno family harvests 800 acres of tender fruit in that prized triangle of real estate overlooking the Niagara River. Those acreages include peaches, nectarines, apricots, organic table grapes and wine grapes. Phil, the patriarch, and his sons Ryan and Jourdan have defined roles.   


Phil is overall farm manager and chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers. Ryan has specialized in the post-harvest side of the business while his brother Jourdan is orchard manager. 


“No growing season is the same,” says Ryan Tregunno. “We are constantly adjusting in the field while taking advantage of technical advancements in the packing house.”


As the largest peach grower in Ontario, the Tregunno family has travelled extensively to keep sharp on industry trends. Several years before outgrowing the previous line, they inspected packing sheds in South Carolina, California and Europe. What became clear is that with every bend and turn or drop in the packing line, there was potential for bruising. That’s why they decided to build a 225 foot-long building that could handle fruit in a straight line. 


Within that new building, they installed New Zealand’s Compac sorting technology, including its Spectrim grading platform. Known globally for its prowess in fruit packing, Compac’s claim is for uniform lighting that minimizes shadows and reflections. It’s this “X-ray” type of vision that enables growers to see the fruit and to identify specific pieces of fruit which should be discarded. 


“Spectrim has machine-learning algorithms that can recognize softness or bruising on the surface of fruit,” explains Tregunno. “Too much pressure on the shoulders of fruit will leave a thumbprint. The fruit may look fine to the naked eye but we need to pull that fruit before it gets into a package.” 


As members of the Vineland Growers’ Cooperative, the Tregunno’s can now be more responsive to filling orders. Under the old system, they could handle five different packages per day. Now, with sizer software, they can handle up to 11 different configurations of packaging. The system has been designed ergonomically so that there is no lifting of a container that is more than 25 pounds. 


“There’s lots of stress with a perishable product like peaches,” says Tregunno. “What we pick today can be cooled overnight and packed tomorrow. This new grading system helps with throughput at higher success rates. Any retailer representative who has seen our system is very impressed. We have the confidence of the retailers that we are providing consistency and that we have the highest quality peaches.” 


Karen Davidson, editor of The Grower, goes "Behind the Scenes" of this cover story and calls Ryan Tregunno to discuss the new packing line. Listen here.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

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