I would like to point out the labor-intensive methodology of harvest, to storage, to packing. The first packer asks the grower to presize and presort in the orchard, harvesting the product into the plastic bushel containers (15kg). Upon delivery and purchase, similar product is then put into wooden bins (see photo) with permeable liners and stored, treated with SmartFresh. At our second visit, the process doesn’t include presizing or presorting. Product is first sized back into plastic bushels then put into bins for storage—growers don’t presort or presize. This is a labor intensive system.
The Buying Process – at the most sophisticated packer
The majority of packers don’t own orchards. The packer we visited purchases the entire production from growers located within a 200km radius. They have a large area (concrete slab) at the warehouse to receive product as well as offering remote buying locations. Growers pick into 15kg plastic bushel containerss, provided by the packer, and bring the product to the warehouse for inspection. They require growers to ‘presize’ and ‘pre-grade’ the apples prior to delivery. Upon inspection (confirmation of sizing and grading) they offer a ‘cash price’ for the load of apples. The growers have the option to accept the offer or go elsewhere.
A lot of emphasis goes into this inspection process, because they feel it’s the key to their success since they assume all the financial risk. Cash is paid immediately to the grower, estimated at $2 to $3 million upfront costs.
It’s common practice for growers to ‘bribe’ inspection workers for an improved grade, since this is the primary tool for determining the value of their crop. This packer has learned that inspection personnel must be kept isolated and incognito to avoid bribery. Inspectors are located inside curtained areas, the fruit is delivered via conveyors with no grower identification and they diligently supervise the process. It would not be uncommon to see growers put money within samples to bribe the inspection personnel. This packer has a negative attitude towards growers and laborers as being deceitful. Bribery is rampant, and if it’s not nailed down, any input will be sold on the black market.
Please note: the above process is not the norm in China. Most (the majority of) apple packers aren’t this sophisticated.