Jul 20, 2020
California pear growers nix 1-MCP; AgroFresh responds

The use of 1-MCP technology as an effective postharvest treatment has been widely accepted by the specialty crops industry, but California pear growers have taken issue with the use of such products, maintaining they have not seen positive results with the approach.

“California pear farmers have united as an industry with a pledge to never use postharvest treatments like 1-MCP that impede ripening and create a disappointing experience for consumers,” according to a May news release from the California Pear Advisory Board.

“Reducing waste is a great goal for and is something we should all be doing to help the environment,” said Chris Zanobini, advisory board executive director. “Pears treated with 1-MCP may be thrown away because they never ripen. This can actually create more waste.”

“California pear farmers are committed to producing pears that offer the best eating experience for our consumers,” Richard Elliot of Stillwater Orchards said in the news release. “This is why we’re pledging never to treat our pears with 1-MCP.”

“What we’ve found in repeated experiments in our lab is that pears treated with 1-MCP can (or sometimes) take as long as three weeks to ripen, in fact, they may never get soft and juicy,” Beth Mitcham, a postharvest researcher at the University of California, Davis, said in an email to Fruit Growers News. “This is not something that always happens, but happens too often. And it’s hard to predict for the industry, and even for researchers. More commonly, ripening at warm temperatures will take around 10-14 days if the treatment with 1-MCP has an adequate effect on the fruit during storage (reducing softening and yellowing).

“I did a lot of work trying to develop a way to predict how the fruit will respond (by measuring the ethylene production of the fruit at the time of treatment) but it was never implemented in commercial practice and therefore fruit can be over-treated (or under-treated as well),” Mitcham wrote.

“It is true that California Bartlett’s are a little different in their ripening behavior after harvest, but I believe there have been general issues with failure to ripen at times,” according to Mitcham. “While I have not done work on Anjou pears, my understanding is that they respond very strongly to 1-MCP – even more than Bartlett.”

“The desire for longer shelf life and waste reduction in the fresh produce industry has resulted in suppliers’ use of 1-MCP,” according to the advisory board release. “It might work well on items that develop their sugar and ripeness during growth, like apples, but for pears and fruits that ripen after picking, 1-MCP can have adverse effects on fruit quality.”

“I think 1-MCP is a great product for apples, in part because you cannot over-treat them, and most all the effects are beneficial,” Mitcham told FGN. “Apples do not need to soften after treatment.

“The pear industry here was initially interested and funded several years of projects with me. In the end, they decided that the improvements to storage life were not worth the delay in ripening – even a 10-day ripening timeframe seemed too long for them. I think pears are just particularly hard to get right with 1-MCP. Other products are not so difficult.”

AgroFresh addresses claims

AgroFresh researchers took issue with the pear advisory board’s position.

“As the company that pioneered the use of 1-MCP technology for fresh produce nearly 20 years ago, AgroFresh would like to contest the misleading, inaccurate and unfounded claims included in recent news about the efficacy of 1-MCP use on pears,” said a statement from an AgroFresh representative.

Ann Beaulieu, vice president R&D and regulatory at AgroFresh and Fernando Edagi, commercial technical manager at AgroFresh, defended the effectiveness of 1-MCP for pears and a range of other crops – when they are used correctly.

“We were surprised to see (the advisory board’s) statements so categorically, since to our knowledge they don’t use 1-MCP,” Beaulieu said. “Since we’re so close to customers, we haven’t worked with them to enable them to use 1-MCP, or Smart Fresh in our case, successfully, or at all. So it was more of a surprise that they would come out with that article. We have not seen an article quite like this before.”

Related: AgroFresh helps keep produce supply chain moving

“I was surprised,” Edagi said. “We’re not selling Smart Fresh for pear growers in California. We sell it for other crops, but not for pears. It’s hard for us to say. We’ve seen the claims that pears using 1-MCP don’t ripen.”

“We know that depending on if you use MCP in a wrong way, like say you treat way too much or way too long, you can definitely have issues,” he said. “We know that for a few crops, over-treating with 1-MCP, you can have issues. We have known this for years. That’s why we work really close with our customers to make sure that they’re successful.

“Ultimately, if a pear packer starts to get rejections from Walmart, they’re going to come back and say, ‘Guys, I’m not going to buy your stuff anymore.’ So their success is our success.”

Beaulieu said AgroFresh has determined one new source of 1-MCP product has been registered in California, “but we’re not familiar if they are selling there or not.”

“Our product is Smartfresh, plus people like Fernando,” Beaulieu said. “Our customers don’t just buy something in a bottle, and then they’re done. We’re a very high-touch business and we’re available to help them learn how to use the product.”

— Gary Pullano, managing editor

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