SOUTH AFRICA – Hortgro, a deciduous fruit producers organization, has funded a new phytosanitary facility dedicated to deciduous fruit to help improve access to new markets and maintain current ones for the industry.

Deciduous fruit refers to fruit that falls off the tree or vine when it is ripe. The category includes apples, Asian pears, figs, grapes and pomegranates.

The new phytosanitary research laboratory will be based in Stellenbosch at the Welgevallen experimental farm of Stellenbosch University.

Phytosanitary research, co-funded by the Post-Harvest Innovation Fund, and led by Dr Shelley Johnson, Phytosanitary Entomology and Market Access Specialist for Hortgro, created an opportunity and sparked a collective vision for the new facility.

The facility will be managed by Dr Renate Smit, an entomologist. Smit joined the Hortgro team in October 2021 as the Phytosanitary Facility Manager and Researcher.

Phytosanitary refers to plant health. All countries maintain certain measures to ensure that imported food is healthy for consumption and to prevent the spread of pests or diseases.

Phytosanitary facilities allow researchers to test different technologies on fruits, insects and pathogens to see which works the best and what measures are needed to ensure local produce can be exported.

“With this facility, we can open new markets and make old ones sustainable,” said Smit.

This facility will be unique in that it will allow integrated research on deciduous fruit, meaning it will run tests on the fruit and on insects at the same time.

Smit will then be able to assess technology that will be able to kill insects while maintaining fruit quality and see if current protocols can be improved upon. These technologies can then be practically applied as postharvest treatments on export fruit.

The facility will now allow Hortgro to test deciduous fruits in-house, where the research had to be outsourced before.

“Other markets can also be accessed if it can be proved that our protocols and treatments will kill all of the target insects and diseases of concern in these markets. The facility will be up-and-running by May 2022. By the next stone fruit season, we will already have some answers,” she said.

To ensure that the treatment development meets the high standards set for international trade, Hortgro consulted fellow entomology researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The researchers are expected to visit the visit the facility sometime in the year.

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