Storage Control’s SafePod manages CA performance

Jul 2, 2019
Storage Control’s SafePod manages CA performance

Monitoring the heartbeat of an apple is big business.

Jim Schaefer, president of Storage Control Systems (SCS) in Sparta, Michigan, said respiration rates are the latest technology in understanding the controlled atmosphere (CA) benefits and ranking of CA rooms.

“Respiration rate is a tool of the marketing,” Schaefer said. “Probably the biggest breakthrough in the last few years is looking at the respiration of the fruit in the CA room and being able to rank rooms (for that purpose). (It’s) in conventional as well as organic, but organic was the driving force behind the need for low oxygen, but along with low-oxygen, using the SafePod you get the extra value of respiration data.”

SCS’s patented SafePod system creates a chamber composed of representative samples of fruit inside large CA storage, allowing the operator to test for the optimal storage regime of the optimal produce to be stored without the potential risk of damaging the entire CA store.

“It just looks at the current atmosphere and what the apples can survive down to, and making sure the fruit is breathing in and out at the right rate,” Schaefer said. “We can see the heartbeat of the apple.”

“Anybody in CA has to be looking at low oxygen,” Schaefer said. “It’s additive to SmartFresh (postharvest treatment from AgroFresh) – I don’t want to say it’s a replacement, but if we had understood low oxygen before SmartFresh, it could have been interesting.”

“SmartFresh has its place, and maybe it’s a Band-Aid for someone who doesn’t have good cooling, but when you have a good storage that can get apples as cold as necessary per variety and per conditioning, and drop the temperature back to where we used to in the (late) David Dilley days – (one of the world’s leading scientists in the investigation of the biological processes taking place in fruits and vegetables following harvest) he was off the tree, cold and into CA in five to seven days. If we go back to that, maybe we get rid of some Gala problems because everybody has shoulder browning and issues with their Galas. Did we have that back then? I don’t think so, but maybe there’s different strains and different growing techniques.”

Low-oxygen approach

Schaefer said he has a lot of customers who this year are going to concentrate a lot more on low oxygen, using SafePods and “trying to get away from some of those issues, so we’ll see how it goes. Safe Pod is the silver bullet for that and seems to be the latest thing for the fruit grower. We have a per-bin price – or max – that the grower is really getting used to because everybody thinks (initially), ‘I don’t want to lease it, I want to own it.’ Well, do you? It’s a scientific instrument. We’ll clean it, we’ll calibrate it, we’ll watch it. We’re going to babysit you every week of every month in CA and we coach you along the way.”

Storage Control has developed a website for SafePod, which is uploading data hourly, and bringing it up to the cloud, “and then through the website you can interact and look at all of your data. You can rank your rooms, or rank other rooms in the region, or in the U.K., or in Yakima or Wenatchee, Washington, or in South America or France,” Schaefer said.

“People grow Gala around the world. If you can look at respiration and say, ‘Look at this, I have the lowest respiring Gala in the world. I think I’m going to keep this room a little longer.’ You don’t want to open that room, because it’s your long-term room. SafePod gives you a global presence, and it’s exciting.”

“We’re in the age of data, and at Storage Control we’re taking that to our customers in a way that is different than anyone else in the world is doing it,” said Bryan Cook, who works in business development for Storage Control. “It’s the whole sharing data that’s never been done before across regions and climates.”

Schaefer said the SafePod approach holds potential for predicting ideal apple storage timing and marketing strategy.

Forecasting the future

“As we build our data and understand it better maybe we can do forecasting and things like that. We’ll know respiration at the beginning, middle and end, and you can forecast it a little bit, too,” Shaefer said. “It’s all available and we are on track to be the leader. We’re looking at a really good solution at giving the supermarket the best quality and the best packouts for the grower and the best reputation for the packhouse.”

Data privacy remains a priority with use of the technology, Cook said. “Data privacy is a big thing. It is anonymous, it’s all hidden.

“All grower information is anonymous to a region,” Shaefer said. “It’s just other pods of the same variety, but on that side of the website they don’t know who it is. It hasn’t been a problem. We have a contract with the grower and they know we’re not going to share their data. They really appreciate our coaching along the way.”

SCS has three people dedicated to looking at all of the pods in use. There will be 180 to 220 SafePods used in CA rooms in the U.S. this year.

“In England, there’s probably going to be 60 SafePods this year,” Schaefer said. “They are very natural over there. They are not organic, but they do not like additive. They say ‘just keep it the way it is and that’s better for our marketing.’”

“DPA (diphenylamine) is already outlawed there, where here it seems we use DPA everywhere to prevent storage disorders,” Cook said.

Schaefer said SPS is moving toward wireless technology in the implementation of its SafePod systems.

“We’re going toward Wi-Fi,” he said. “We have to have some wire in the room to move about, but it’s going to be more wireless communication soon. Maybe there’s been an obstacle about getting some of the power and wiring, which should be a lot easier when we get a Wi-Fi version because boxes can talk down a meshed network. If that’s been a challenge, we’ve gotten around it. Wireless is a dream so that’s the next generation that SafePod will have more wireless.”

A reliable data source

Use of the SafePod technology can provide security to growers who no longer face a guessing game with their storage timetables.

“I had a grower in a meeting mention, ‘I wish I would have had a SafePod in that room, because I was flying blind,” Shaefer said. “You get very comfortable looking at the heartbeat of the apple, and when you don’t have it, you’re like, ‘well, I don’t know what that room was doing. I didn’t see the respiration.’ It’s becoming just as important as oxygen being down to precise percentages. How many millimeters per hour is it respirating, and is it breathing in and out using oxygen?

“We’re storing Gala in 0.04% to 0.06% oxygen ranges, and they’re living quite happily,” Schaefer said. “They have flavor like crazy, (fewer) disorders and are very marketable even after CA on a full 15-day shelf life. Depending on the market, you could add a dose of SmartFresh in April, the day before you open the room, in May or June for the transit down the cold chain to extend it further. There is no need to do it at the beginning of the season.

“That could be a new frontier and the use for some of the MCP (methylclopropene) products,” Schaefer said. “For storing the apple, low oxygen is doing just a great job. You have to be able to look, and make decisions on how low of oxygen on that variety for that year, because weather changes how the apple respirates.

“There’s no such thing as a normal year,” Schaefer said. “There’s no fixed oxygen percentage for an apple. Every variety each year is going to be different and SafePod is going to be the answer to say what your perfect oxygen set point should be every year. That is a game changer.”

SCS offers a variant of the system called LabPod, which adds the ablity for the unit to regulate its own O2/C02 whether or not the surrounding environment is under CA. A smaller, miniPod, is also available for smaller-scale testing operations and applications.

SafePod will work with other specialty crop commodities. “Anything that would ripen after harvest can be a candidate for the SafePod,” Schaefer said.

– Gary Pullano, managing editor

Above, Jim Schaefer with the SafePod storage system.

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