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07 november 2016

'Adjust transport to the product'

Kenya – The laboratory is the foundation for the development in the floricultural chain. Nobody knows this better but Esther Hogeveen-van Echtelt, Project leader / researcher After harvest technology of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research (WFBR). As project leader WFBR she has been involved in GreenCHAINge since August 2015. Her predecessors were Eelke Westra and Henry Boerrigter.

Joep Derksen

An important sales argument for consumers is the quality of flowers and plants. WFBR is part of Wageningen University and Research and it has been doing research on the quality of products in the floricultural chain for over twenty years. Hogeveen: 'In order for good quality floricultural products to reach the consumer, three aspects are important for the floricultural chain: a solid base product, transportation under optimal circumstances and the right treatment after transport.'

A good base product needs a solid preparation for the sometimes long road from producer to consumer. After harvesting, flowers and plants are prepared for transport by means of pre-cooling, adding of water of protection against bacteria and fungus, which could cross their path en route. To optimally transport the floricultural products, while maintaining the quality and durability, WFBR develops measures and protocols based on their research.

When and how did the idea arise for researching sea transport from Kenya? 'Large quantities of roses are flown in from Kenya. Why should this not be successful with sea freight as well? Using sea freight can result in a more durable chain (less CO2) and cost cutting. At the time, the major question was, whether the quality of the products would remain equal to air freight. Therefore, research has been done to set up a chain protocol for Kenyan roses. Besides this, it is important for all chain parties to cooperate; in this way they can all work for realising the best circumstances for the product.' Because of these reasons, GreenCHAINge Duurzame Sierteeltketens (Durable Floricultural chains) was set up in 2013. Its main purpose was to investigate the preservation of export chains of pot plants and cut flowers (amongst others through train transports), besides the import chain through sea freight from Kenya.

The purpose of the research is, that you want to develop a protocol, which will make sure that the quality throughout the chain is preserved as best as possible. Can you elaborate? Hogeveen: 'There are several directions in the research. We run tests to prove that sea freight from Kenya can function as well as air freight. Provided that attention is being given to a couple of issues, such as choice of variety, means of pre-treatment, after-harvest botrytis treatments, protection from dehydration during transport, how to package, which product temperatures you wish to achieve and how to fill the container. Also, a tool is developed to calculate the savings in CO2 when you switch from air freight to sea freight.

Besides that, it is important to fully understand the physiological process within a rose; what happens to a rose when it is transported at low temperatures for a longer period of time? Knowledge about this can give new insights in amongst others cultivar and after harvest treatment to preserve quality; also for sea freight. Hogeveen: 'Amongst others, the results show that the water balance of a rose on vase can alter as it is being transported for a longer period of time. But the extent to which the rose is troubled by this, seems to strongly relate to its breed/origin. Sometimes the stomata react slower when transport takes a longer period of time. Because of this, more fluid is lost, which makes a rose more susceptible for amongst others bent-neck phenomenons. In this project, we have shown that for many lots, an average vase life of over 7 days is achievable after sea freight and a retail simulation. With over 85% of the flowers in good general condition.'

You would like to see a chain cooperation to occur, in which all links in the chain will cooperate to realise sea freight. Do you think this is a realistic goal? 'With more information sharing, each party in the chain benefits when the consumer is pleased and buys the product next time again. The more each step is monitored and the information arising of this monitoring is passed on, the better all parties can assess what quality a batch has. I cannot yet indicate, whether it is realistic that all links in the chain will cooperate. We mostly notice that the key to good quality lies in cooperation and ever more parties are realising this. However, – often short term – interests remain present. We still have a long way to go.'