Paddock to Plate
Consumers of produce are not always aware of the freshness of produce that they enjoy every day. The complexity and technology advancements of the transport industry in the last decade have given farmers the opportunity to have their produce from the paddock to market within 24 hours. The complex supply chain allows farmers to sustain the quality of the produce from harvest to purchase at the markets.
Lindsay Transport is one of Australia’s largest refrigerated produce transport companies, where refrigerated trailers make up 85% of the company’s fleet. These trailers allow farmers and other chilled food manufacturers to easily transport goods around Australia without any interference to the quality or longevity of the product. The technology enables consistent probing for temperature control, consistent air flow, quieter operation and lower fuel consumption. Pallets are loaded in the trailer to a maximum height of 2.4 meters, known as the load line, which allows the cooling system to correctly flow from the front to the back of van without causing freeze burn to the product. The floor of the trailer has two centimetre wide grills where a fan at the front of the van sucks the cold air from between these grills back to the top of the trailer causing a circular motion of cold air to ensure that hot air is removed and not trapped in the trailer. At dawn it is a cool ten degrees at a broccolini farm in Gatton and workers are quickly handpicking the broccolini while other workers take the full cartons away for packing.
A team of eight workers in the packing shed combine four stalks of broccolini tied together before the ends are cut clean. At the end of the production line the bails are packed into ice-filled Styrofoam boxes to keep the produce between zero and two degrees. These boxes are stacked onto pallets ready to be picked up by Lindsay Transport. The local rigid truck arrives at the farm around 10 am to collect the produce. The forklift driver evenly stacks the pallets in the back of the truck to ensure that the weight of the pallets is even and unable to move during the return trip to the depot. Once at the depot the produce is unloaded from the rigid truck and quickly transferred into a cold room set to two degrees Celsius waiting to be loaded into the Linehaul truck. Depot staff need to ensure that the produce is correctly stored with compatible fruits and vegetables as ethylene producing produce may cause produce sensitive to ethylene to ripen too quickly or discolour.
For example, if the broccolini was stored with red tomatoes or paw paws would cause the broccolini to turn yellow as it is highly sensitive to ethylene. By midday the broccolini and other produce of the region in the depot makes a full load and is loaded on the Linehaul truck, forklift drivers work quickly at this stage to transfer the produce from the cold rooms to the truck ready for the departure. Industry compliance requires the pallets of produce to be evenly placed throughout the truck according to weight and weighed before leaving the depot to ensure it is within the weight limits. The twenty-four pallet trailer is filled with produce which is sensitive to ethylene between zero and two degrees Celsius to maintain the quality and longevity of the produce. If the produce is stored with ethylene producing produce or not kept within this temperature range, the ‘cold chain’ is broken causing the produce to deteriorate more quickly resulting in a shorter shelf life. The refrigerated motors connected to the trailers work throughout the trip from Gatton to when the produce is unloaded at the Sydney Markets at Homebush, 1000km from the farm.
Although the produce is going to the central market system, it would have been sold months prior to a specific market agent and from here the market agent arranges the product to be unloaded from the truck and transferred to the agent’s cold room. These market agents supply produce to fruit and vegetable stores and occasionally to the larger supermarket chains. Most farmers have agreements with Coles and Woolworths for supply of produce and must adhere to strict product specifications and temperature controls. In the instance where produce does not meet these specifications or delivered within the temperature limits the product is ‘knocked out’ and returned to the central market to be sold.
The integrated relationship between the farmer and the transport company is imperative to ensure that ‘knock outs’ are avoided, for the responsibility of temperature control is in the hands of the transport company. From the time that the produce leaves the farm to arriving at the market the product has been handled up to ten times before it is in the customer’s shopping bag. At every stage the temperature of the produce is maintained and handled with care. The next time broccolini is on the shelf at your local super market, observe the cut base of the stalk and if it is wet and white, you know that you are holding a product that was picked from the farm less than 24 hours ago.