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COUNTRY LIFE IN BC • FEBRUARY 2019


Blueberry growers hone use of box liners The films won’t work for everyone, growers cautioned


by RONDA PAYNE


ABBOTSFORD – Exporting blueberries to different countries requires special care and attention. The fruit must be at its best in order to travel weeks to its destination. Box liners are one option to ensure fruit quality upon arrival. However, some BC blueberry growers are struggling to make the liners work consistently. When the refrigerated trailer or container maintains the right shipping temperature and box liners are used correctly, fruit quality can be preserved for


long periods of time without using pallet covers. “I would say you can


probably get a month and a half if you do everything right,” says Peter Toivonen, a research scientist specializing in postharvest physiology with Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada. Unfortunately, getting


everything right can be a challenge according to David Mutz, field manager with Berry Haven Farm in Abbotsford. “We’ve been working on


them for four, five, six years,” Mutz says. “One bag doesn’t fit all.”


Box liners were initially


used for cherries. Blueberries have a similar respiration rate, so berry growers are now making use of them. Toivonen says micropores in the film allow oxygen to pass through while carbon dioxide associates with water vapor and is kept inside the film bags. Greater carbon dioxide slows decay. The film allows carbon


dioxide concentrations to increase to 10% to 15% while oxygen levels generally drop to no less than 5%. In essence, the box liners put the fruit to sleep, according to Mutz.


Boxes must be highly


water-resistant in order to hold up during shipping. A box with airflow vents combined with a box liner with micropores provides better temperature control. Toivonen knows of about


five companies that produce a film suitable for cherries and one for blueberries. There are plenty of variables, but Mutz says fruit quality is the most important factor to the success of box liners.


“[Berries] need to be


picked ripe, on the side of early, even,” he says. “We used [the liners] last year, because of the [high fruit] quality last year. The fruit wasn’t perfect [this year] so we used them less.”


Mutz thinks box liners are


the way to do things going forward but Berry Haven has lost money figuring out how to use them. The troubles prompt a warning. “It’s not going to work for


everybody,” he says. “I don’t think it’s going to work for the ginormous packers either. At the peak of the crop, it’s going to be pretty hard.” Packers must pay attention to detail and be willing to commit both equipment and


manual labour to getting things right. “It’s not a ‘set it and forget


it’ kind of thing,” he says, comparing the use of liners to using the atmosphere control agent Tectrol. “It’s not just what you do; it’s also what happens after it leaves your control.” Toivonen says box liners


also provide assurance that berries weren’t contaminated during shipping, mitigating food safety concerns. Some international markets now require them. Toivonen recommends holding back samples from each shipment as a control for evaluating changes while the fruit is in transit. “Holding library samples


can provide evidence of fruit quality when there may be claims at market, because if the quality of the samples in your cooler is good, then any issues that occurred in market would be better attributed to temperature abuse during shipping,” he says. In addition to their own


research, BC blueberry growers are studying the experience of cherry growers and Chilean blueberry growers with the liners.


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