Interview with Bruno Defilippi – Pre-harvest and Post-harvest process in Hass avocado Crops

“The fruit process ends when it reaches the consumer, and not just when it leaves the farm, because the fruit changes”

One of the most important specialists in post-harvest stage of fruits, Dr. Bruno Defilippi, adviser of GSF farming since a few months ago in Colombia and Brazil , gave us an interview about the aspects that all producers must take into account.

In April 2022, the doctor visited our crops in Colombia and attended the RedAgricola International Avocado Conference held in the city of Pereira, Risaralda, as a speaker.

Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background
I am an agricultural engineer with a doctorate in postharvest physiology and for more than 20 years I have been working on issues associated with postharvest management to obtain quality fruit, especially in crops such as avocado, blueberries and grapes. Currently, I am a researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Research of Chile (INIA) and I do consultancies in Chile, Peru and Colombia on very specific aspects of post-harvest. 

How do you see the outlook in Colombia on the subject of post-harvest compared to other countries such as Peru or Chile?
Colombia has interesting conditions for avocado cultivation, and that is the basis of post-harvest.The country has several agroclimatic zones, it has enough water and a very good temperature, important factors in the pre-harvest. A great advantage that Colombia has in terms of post-harvest, and unlike Chile and Peru, is that it is very close to consumer markets such as Europe. Chile, for example, takes around 30, 35 days or perhaps more, to reach the same markets as Colombia, the latter taking only 10 or 12 days; then we see how that shorter distance in Colombia becomes a great advantage, since they have greater ease and speed to market the fruit.

What aspects determine the quality in Hass avocado harvest?
From the definition of the genetics, that is, the selection of the appropriate pattern considering a single variety such as Hass, to the post-harvest that implies the logistics to reach the market. One does the post-harvest according to each country or company, you cannot go out and buy it, so as a company you must have training at the farm level, explain very well the agronomic management that allows you to have a good fruit harvest, and what is it a good fruit? A good avocado, that has an adequate oil content, that the consumer likes and that has the capacity to travel and ripen. So, the factors include (i) a good pre-harvest, (ii) starting with a good harvest established by the index that we all use which is dry matter (oil content) and (iii) through the process of packaging, selection and everything from the handling temperature. You must remember that the avocado as a fruit is always alive, it is not that you take it off the tree and the fruit dies, the fruit is still alive, it continues to soften, breathe and mature; So, with temperature management, the use of technology and good treatment of the fruit, I try to bring this product to the consumer, achieving an exceptional global quality.

What pre-harvest factors must be considered for a good post-harvest?
You must have a good plant, what comes out of the nursery must have the right conditions to tolerate the different types of soil (sandy, clayey, sloping, etc.), then there is the location where the farm is located, some good climatic conditions, the closest thing to what the tree needs and lastly, there is all the agricultural and agronomic management, which starts from nutrition management, pest management, where for example in Colombia there is pest pressure much more important than in Peru or Chile. There is an issue that is not seen in the pre-harvest, but it is very important and sometimes it is not taken into account, and it is time to decide when to harvest, we know what the index is, but we have to apply it, that is, we have to harvest when precisely, that fruit has the ability to ripen. Another thing that does not belong to pre-harvest management but is part of it is the quality of the roads, where Colombia has some limitations in this, the fruit must be moved up slopes from hills, then transported for hours to packing, and to Sometimes these conditions cause the fruit to be involuntarily damaged, as I have explained to you, it is a living fruit and every time it is hit, its post-harvest life is being conditioned.

What factors can affect the postharvest process in Hass avocado?
In post-harvest, several things must be considered, including good management of storage temperature and the use of complementary technologies, the correct use of containers, sanitizers and fungicides to reach a good destination, having a good process, clean and that be delicate about handling the fruit, the previous question complements this one a bit. Another important thing is the heterogeneity in the fruit, this is also a factor that affects the post-harvest process.

What is the estimated shelf life of avocados in the post-harvest process? 
It depends. Time is conditioned by how the productive stage of the fruit was, I can have avocados that come from farms that have a very good shelf life, reaching 30 or 35 days, because I gave them the right pre-harvest conditions, but if not, I did this, that fruit will have a shelf life of 15 or 20 days, sometimes even limited for a local market. Saying this, if you have some fruit with good conditions, I will say that up to 30-35 days from the harvest in the case of Colombia.

Why is the use of technology important in the Hass avocado postharvest process?
Technology must be used in the post-harvest process because unfortunately the avocado fruit breathes a lot, if some fruit breathes a lot it is more perishable, that is, it lasts less. Avocado transportation is done in sea containers, and these are refrigerated at 5-7 degrees Celsius, unfortunately that temperature is not enough for the fruit to arrive in good condition to a relatively distant market (Europe), so one adds these technologies complementary, such as the controlled atmosphere, to help the cold to extend the useful life of the fruit.Countries such as Chile or Peru practically 100% of the avocado is shipped with these complementary technologies, which we must not forget what I mention, that it is complementary, it will not replace good handling of the fruit and good handling in terms of temperature during transit to destination. Something must also be added, and that is that this fruit does not have many complementary technologies, that is, we have a controlled atmosphere, and then we have things like the use of sanitizers, ethylene inhibitors, etc. But there is a restriction in the number of technologies, and we must take care of them, making them more efficient, understand them, and know when they work and when they don’t.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that Colombia has to export a fresh and quality product?
I believe that it is a good understanding of the entire pre-harvest process, I also think that there is a lack of information at the nutritional level, in technical issues of disease management, which is not easy, because there are not many registered products, understanding that the product is assembled from pre-harvest to post-harvest, understanding the issue of roads, infrastructure. A product like avocado is generally produced in hills, and it has to be moved in some way, so I would say that more than anything there are logistical challenges, transportation from the farms to the packinghouses, from the packinghouses to the port areas, the sum of diseases, the issue of pests, which is very important, the management of pesticide residues, as there is so much pressure from pests in pre-harvest, it is necessary to be quite clear about the issue of pesticides, which affect the safety of the product to call it in some way.

What advice can you give producers for the proper management of their crops?
One piece of advice I give them is to work well with the pre-harvest, study conscientously nutrition issues. It is necessary to develop its own technology and carry out its own research with technological application, to understand how the avocado works under an environment such as the one in which it is produced.

Any additional recommendation? That the producers, especially the smaller ones, understand that the fruit process ends when it reaches the consumer, not when it leaves the farm, because the fruit changes. I believe that in general, when avocados arrive at harvest, most of them are of good quality, except for some damage caused by pests, but when they reach the consumer, including the local market, it is when you really see how the fruit was treated in pre-harvest.

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