Upgrades to Habata Agri’s watermelon sorting line means they are being sorted, cleaned, weighed and distributed to the best possible standards.
Harvesting of this year’s crop by the Addo-based farming operation began in the last week of November and the first watermelons passed through the facility shortly afterwards.
Production director Gary Webb explained that the process started with the watermelons being manually fed into the line.
They were then sorted, he said, into singular lines (a practice called singulation) and cleaned before being divided into two classes.
“Class one is the best fruit and class two those with slight blemishes or shape deformities; things that aren’t great on the eye.”
Class one watermelons were designated for retailers while the latter went to hawkers, he said.
Once classified, the watermelons are weighed to ensure retailers receive exactly what they asked for.
“For example, one of our retailers requires watermelons that weigh between eight and 10 kilograms. With this process that’s exactly what they’ll get.”
The process ends with the watermelons being sorted by mechanical arms into designated bins.
Webb said the main upgrade to the system involved the cleaning mechanism and meant the packhouse where the sorting took place was now one of the best in the country.
“The old brushes did not always cover the whole fruit, but we now have brushes that clean the top and the bottom – everywhere – so the fruit is dust free and has a nice shiny appearance.
“We’ll probably have the same sort of input as last year but the brushes definitely add a new dimension.”
Once sorted into bins, the aim was to get the watermelons into the shops as soon as possible, he said.
“Whatever we harvest, we aim to get out by the next day, at the latest.
“They do have a longer shelf life than something like spanspek, but we try to process them quickly, because the fresher they are the better.”
The process, overseen by well-qualified Habata staff, allowed for roughly 1 000 bins of watermelons to be processed daily, with each containing up to 350kg of fruit.
Although harvesting was still in the early stages, Webb said they expected to produce 40 000 bins of watermelons across their seedless and seeded varieties.