The Geos packing house has 51 channels and 10 packing lines.
The Geos packing house, a member of the Vinschgau Fruit and Vegetable Producers cooperative (VI.P), is almost too quiet to be a processing facility. State-of-the-art design and equipment has silenced the dump room, and natural lighting makes the packing line well illuminated.
The 200,000-square-foot facility, located in Silandro near Merano, Italy, was remodeled a decade ago to upgrade and expand capacity to 65,000 tons, said Andreas Humml, production manager at Geos. Everything is presized and graded by an external sorting machine made by Greefa in Holland that can sort seven fruits per second. The facility has 10 packing lines and 51 channels, and can handle about 29 tons of fruit per hour. Bin dumping and stacking is automated. Two work shifts run daily for a total of 15 hours, processing up to 1,400 bins per day. Plastic bins are used at Geos, each holding about 700 pounds.
When an international group of tree fruit industry members toured the facility just after harvest in early November, the crop of 66,000 tons produced by the 330 grower members of Geos filled the facility to capacity. That’s why they plan to add more storage in the coming year, Humml said. The European Union encourages packing houses to be efficient and modern, directly subsidizing about half of the cost of new packing equipment for the tree fruit industry.
Most apples are kept in controlled-atmosphere rooms (they can hold 60,000 tons in CA), and they keep 5,000 tons in dynamic controlled atmosphere. Their packing season begins in October and typically finishes in August. About 140 workers are annually employed on the packing lines.
Packout rates at Geos average 80 percent. Of the remaining 20 percent, about 18 percent is packed bulk in large, cardboard bins, according to Humml. Less than 2 percent of the fruit at the packing house is graded as “industrial” and sent to the juicer. Growers make an initial presort in the field to cull out the industrial grade, bringing such fruit into the packing house in separate bins from their higher quality fruit.
Geos, founded in 1946, initially packed apricots and vegetables. But now, only a small amount of apricots are packed and sold in local markets, and most of the facility is dedicated to apples. Geos is one of seven packing houses affiliated with VI.P and represents nearly a quarter of the apple production of the Vinschgau Valley. All of the VI.P packing houses have the same equipment, Humml said.
Golden Delicious is the mainstay variety in the Vinschgau area because of the high yields and premium received by growers for the rosy blush that results from being grown at high elevations. Eighty percent of the apples they pack are Golden Delicious; 10 percent are Red Delicious; 7 percent Jonagold; and the rest are small percentages of Gala, Fuji, and Braeburn. The newest variety being packed is Pinova. Nearly 100 percent of the fruit packed is certified under the integrated fruit production program.
Humml noted that the domestic market in Italy is the primary destination for the VI.P grower cooperative’s apples, followed by Germany, Scandinavia, Spain and Portugal, and eastern Europe. New markets have recently been opened in the Middle Eastern countries of Dubai, Israel, and Egypt.