Globally, fruit producers, packhouses, and shippers face multiple challenges in today’s dynamic market. From labor availability and costs to market competition, regulatory compliance, and managing a complex supply chain, the agricultural industry is increasingly turning to technology for solutions . One such solution that has emerged is early fruit sizing technology, exemplified by Hectre’s Spectre app, which provides significant benefits for growers, packers, and marketers in improving efficiencies, optimizing planning, reducing costs, and increasing revenue.
Why Size Matters
When it comes to fruit production in general, the size of the fruit plays a significant role in determining its marketability and commercial success. Flavor, appearance (including color, firmness, and blemishes), shelf-life, and size, are just some of them. While different markets may have specific requirements, size generally holds significant importance across the board.
To illustrate this, let’s consider apples as an example. When apples are harvested and transported from the orchard to the packhouse, their size becomes a crucial determinant of which market they will be sold into. This decision influences numerous aspects, including:
- Determining the ideal timing for selling the fruit in a particular market.
- Deciding the appropriate duration for fruit storage, considering temperature-controlled cool rooms capable of storing apples for extended periods.
- Identifying the required packaging specifications for the fruit.
- Optimizing the pack line setup and strategically placing staff members for efficient operations.
Therefore, understanding and assessing fruit size is paramount for growers, packers, and marketers to make informed decisions and optimize their operations in the competitive fruit industry.
Overcoming Industry Challenges With Early Fruit Sizing Technology
Traditionally, farmers and packers have relied on manual methods to determine the size of their produce. Whether it was weighing a dozen apples, measuring them with sizing rings or calipers, or estimating their size “by eye” based on experience, orchards and fruit warehouses have managed with these approaches for over a century.
However, with new fruit sizing technology offering a competitive edge and considering the unique challenges faced by the industry today, more growers and packers are recognizing the advantages of moving to early fruit sizing technology.
Labor Shortages & Costs
Labor availability and costs have long been a significant concern for fruit farms and packing warehouses. Traditional manual sizing methods are time-consuming, inconsistent, and unreliable, placing a burden on labor resources. On the flip side, early fruit sizing technology streamlines and optimizes the process, empowering growers and packers to make data-driven decisions regarding workforce deployment, storage, pack planning and sales, supporting them to achieve greater operational efficiency and a better bottom line.
Ensuring Produce Quality
For packhouses, early fruit sizing technology enables more effective fruit storage management, which helps maintain product quality. For example, apple packhouses storing apples in controlled atmosphere (CA) rooms benefit from fruit size information, as it improves storage management, and reduces the risk of stored apples being exposed to regular atmospheric oxygen, which can damage the fruit. Furthermore, early fruit sizing technology typically eliminates the need to handle the fruit to assess its size, mitigating the risk of potential damage.
Leading The Way: Early Fruit Sizing Technology – Spectre
Hectre, a leading innovator in the agriculture industry, has introduced a groundbreaking solution called Spectre. Powered by machine learning and computer vision AI technology, Spectre has transformed fruit size and color sampling. By capturing a photo of the top layer of fruit bins or buckets, Spectre provides highly accurate size and color distribution data within seconds.
According to industry publication Growing Produce, Spectre’s estimates have proven to be 95% accurate when compared to packinghouse graders, surpassing the accuracy achieved by traditional grower methods that rely on limited samples .
Computer Vision & Machine Learning AI
Computer vision, a specialized area of computer science, focuses on replicating the complexity of human vision. It aims to educate computers to identify and process objects within images or videos, simulating human visual perception. If we break it down, it’s like when you look at your hand. Without thinking, your eyes instantly recognize five fingers without needing to count. In the same way, computer vision enables cameras or computer systems to identify objects without manual counting.
Machine learning, a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI), develops algorithms and statistical models that enable computers to perform tasks without explicit instructions. These systems learn from data, identify patterns, and make inferences.
Hectre continuously innovates and expands Spectre’s capabilities to cater to various produce types. Currently, Spectre offers solutions for apples, pears, cherries, citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, and mandarins), and onions. Each tailored solution provides growers and packers with valuable insights into the size distribution of their specific fruit or crop type.
Learn how First Fresh NZ utilizes Spectre for Citrus here.
Options to Meet Different Needs
In addition to supporting early fruit sizing for various produce, Hectre offers two versions of the app to cater to different customer use cases.
Spectre Hand-Held allows users to capture images of the top layer of fruit bins or buckets using an iPad or iPhone. (An Android offering will be available shortly.)
This portable approach provides growers, QC staff and packhouse teams, with quick access to size and color distribution data in three simple steps:
- Select a bin or bucket of fruit.
- Take a photo on an iPad or iPhone and upload it to Spectre.
- Receive size distribution data in seconds. That’s it.
- Adjust the pick to better meet the brief
- Provide certainty to sales teams
- Store your fruit better
- Improve your packline operation
Whether it’s in the orchard, in the cool store, or at the packhouse, Spectre Hand-Held is the quick and easy-to-use mobile solution for your early fruit sizing needs, facilitating data-driven decisions on the go, wherever and whenever you need it.
Implementing Spectre Hand-Held is a straightforward process that begins with a simple conversation with the Hectre team. By discussing your specific usage case and determining the appropriate number of devices required, you can seamlessly integrate Spectre Hand-Held into your operations to achieve optimal effectiveness.
Washington Fruit and Produce’s Technology Program Leader Gilbert Plath shares the value they gain from Spectre Hand-Held here:
“At Washington Fruit, we utilize Spectre in our orchard’s loading areas to obtain size and color information about the fruit. Typically, every day that we are picking, we use Spectre to sample ten bins from each block. In total, we sample about 100 apples per bin with Spectre, which means we sample about 1,000 apples per block each day.”
Find out more about how Washington Fruit & Produce benefits from Spectre Hand-Held here.
Spectre Top Down
Specter Top Down offers the ideal solution for high-volume producers, enterprise packers, marketers, and shippers. With Spectre Top Down, the Spectre app is connected to an overhead camera mounted above truck receiving. The solution captures images of 20 or more fruit bins per truck pass, providing a huge sample size and thus even more accurate results.
The Hectre team manages the installation of the camera for packhouses, making implementation easy. Once the camera is set up, Hectre’s award-winning AI technology detects and sizes fruit from the top layer of the bins on the truck, delivering highly-accurate size (and color) distribution data within seconds, which can be pushed via API.
This invaluable real-time access to large-sample sizes empowers stakeholders in the packing line, storage, BI, and sales departments to make informed decisions earlier and with enhanced accuracy. By leveraging data lakes and utilizing advanced manipulation techniques, Spectre Top Down delivers superior insights, unlocking unprecedented opportunities for operational efficiency and revenue optimization.
Watch Spectre Top Down in action here
When asked about the benefits of Spectre Top Down, leading Washington fruit packer, Monson Fruit achieved a 4,000% increase in their early fruit size sampling, and shared this insight:
“With Spectre Top Down, we can decide right off the bat where we will allocate the fruit. Having certainty around allocation means we can keep the packline running with fewer stops and starts. It also avoids having 100 people standing around waiting for decisions or changes to be made, which is not very cost-efficient.”
Read more about Monson Fruit’s experience here.
The Spectre Dashboard
Integrated with the Spectre fruit sizing app, the Spectre Dashboard offers a comprehensive view of Spectre data. Users can access and download size and color distribution tables for multiple lots on a single page. With advanced search capabilities and filters, the Spectre Dashboard simplifies the utilization of early fruit size data, empowering growers and warehouse managers to make informed decisions.
Unlocking the Benefits
Early fruit sizing technology offers a range of advantages to growers and packers, enabling them to make informed decisions and optimize their operations:
- Data-driven decision-making for pack planning and more efficient management of the pick process
- Improved operational efficiency and productivity
- Enhanced allocation of resources, including labor and packaging, for streamlined operations and minimized fruit loss
- Optimization of pricing strategies and marketability to maximize profitability
- Valuable insights into available fruit inventory, enabling alignment with market requirements and demand
In an industry where data-driven decision-making is vital, early fruit sizing technology equips growers and packers with the necessary tools to thrive. By embracing innovative solutions like Spectre, both growers and packers can unlock new levels of efficiency, productivity, and profitability, opening up a world of possibilities for the industry and paving the way for a fruitful future.