Postharvest loss is a monumental problem worldwide. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that as much as 30% to 40% of all food produced (and 40% to 50% root crops, fruits, and vegetables) is lost due, in part, to a “lack of proper post-harvest storage, processing, or transportation facilities.”
Put in monetary terms, the amount of food lost every year is valued at more than $1 trillion. That’s $1,000,000,000,000.
Even just a small reduction in postharvest loss can have a major impact, especially for the farmers whose livelihoods rely on being able to sell their crops. According to the World Bank, every 1% reduction in postharvest loss results in $40 million of gains, and the main beneficiaries of these gains are farmers.
Postharvest loss can happen for many reasons. Products may be bruised or otherwise damaged. They may be subject to disease or parasites.
But for many products — fresh produce, in particular — the main cause of postharvest loss is simply perishability. The food goes bad before it can be consumed.
Here’s what the FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department has to say about perishability and produce loss:
“All fruits, vegetables and root crops are living plant parts containing 65% to 95% water, and they continue their living processes after harvest. Their postharvest life depends on the rate at which they use up their stored food reserves and their rate of water loss. When food and water reserves are exhausted, the produce dies and decays. Anything that increases the rate of this process may make the produce inedible before it can be used.”
The article notes that high temperatures increase the rate of natural deterioration, and extremely high temperatures can cause abnormal deterioration — all of which makes the produce “unfit for use.”
Produce starts to deteriorate shortly after it’s harvested. So, as a farmer, the best thing you can do is get your produce into cold storage as soon as possible. In this article for Growing for Market, CoolBot inventor Ron Khosla highlights the importance of immediate cold storage using a highly perishable summer favorite: strawberries.
“To use strawberries as an example, the ideal temperature to store them at is 32°F. Store them at 65°F and you reduce their storage life by over 70%. That’s depressing enough, but what’s far worse is letting them sit at 77°F for just the few hours you might spend harvesting! Delay your cooling by only 4 hours from harvest and you reduce your storage time by almost half! Let them sit for 6-8 hours you’re back down to 70% reduction in storage life even if you cool them down to 32°F after that!
Also remember that the effects of temperature are additive. The most damage occurs immediately after harvest, because the crop is often even hotter than 77°F because it was sitting out in the sun. But even after you’ve cooled them down, they are going to heat up again at your farm stand, and then in your customers’ cars on the way home. All those sub-optimal times add up together to destroy the quality of your produce, so it’s essential that you control what you can control – especially in that first 30-60 minutes immediately after harvest!”
Cold storage helps you stop deterioration in its tracks. That means you can keep the produce fresh longer, giving you more time to get it into the hands of your customers.Depending on the crop, you could even harvest at the same time as everyone else, but then delay taking your products to market until a more advantageous time (i.e., when fewer people are selling the same crop).
So, why is cold storage the #1 way to reduce postharvest loss?
It’s simple: The longer you keep your products fresh, the more likely you’ll be able to sell them, and the less you’ll have to throw away.
The CoolBot makes cold storage affordable for even the smallest farms. Learn how to build your own walk-in cooler using a CoolBot and an air conditioner. Or explore a turnkey solution featuring the CoolBot technology.