The range of new post-harvest technologies available to the fruit industry was highlighted by Dr Debbie Rees of the University of Greenwich Natural Resources Institute at the recent East Malling Research Fruit Storage Day.
Near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy offers the possibility to measure starch and sugar content as well as pectin levels because each absorb the radiation in identifiable ways, she said.
"This is already starting to be used commercially in the USA and Europe - by Dutch sorting technology developer Aweta for example - and can grade out storage disorders."
Newly-developed handheld NIR machines being trialled in Belgium can indicate the optimal picking date in seconds, she added.
Other technologies showing promise include pheromone testing, surface deflection measurement and chorophyll fluorescence. Meanwhile, molecular diagnostic techniques "let you analyse fruit to see which genes are being expressed at any one time", she said.
A number of ways of controlling the plant-ripening hormone ethylene in stores are being developed in addition to the established SmartFresh, Rees added.
These include the ozone-based systems from Biofresh and palladium-based scrubbers from Food Freshness Technology, both of which are UK-based firms.
Polish fruit industry - Chemical concern
The loss of the scab inhibitor DPA (diphenylamine) was a concern to the Polish fruit industry, Dr Krzysztof Rutkowski of the Polish Horticultural Institute revealed at East Malling Research's Fruit Storage Day.
"We don't know what to replace it with," he said. "We are looking into alternatives but still can't block this disorder."
He added that despite rationalisations, the Polish fresh produce sector remains dominated by small producers, with more than 300,000 horticultural holdings, one-third of which are under 1ha in area.
"The last decade has seen a growing number of producer groups, though they remain under 300," said Rutkowski.