Post-harvest is a process that has been neglected for a long time but is a game changer especially in horticulture farming. With the current high inputs prices and escalating running costs, curbing post-harvest loses is vital, bearing in mind it is also the face of a company.
Post-harvest loses are quantifiable and any intervention done to reduce them, the impact is usually vividly eminent. It’s upon this grounds that Equinox a rose flower growing farm in Timau, Nanyuki has invested heavily in modern systems. They have installed a modern cable way known as Skytrain Transport System and also adopted the ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Standard to curb post-harvest loses thus assuring their venerated customers high quality, colorful and fresh roses.
It is painful for a farmer to plant correctly, use quality plantings, properly feed a crop, accord it right management including curbing pests & diseases, and achieve a noble harvest but at this juncture incur post-harvest loses because of how the produce is handled before it’s presented to a customer.
“Skytrain Transport System assures us quality in rose freshness, which means when the roses are being transported in buckets, the way is smooth, their heads are not knocking each other. We could have put smooth tarmac roads but it was more expensive thus we opted for the system,” said Rod Jones, CEO Equinox Flowers.
Equinox which began operations in 2008, prides itself in growing 13 varieties of T-hybrid premium roses. Their 3 kilometer, Skytrain Transport System is the longest in the region transporting roses from their greenhouse and landing them right into the packing house.
George Njogu, Equinox head of post-harvest highlights that Skytrain was built in phases from 2012. The first phase reached every greenhouse and areas such as compost site and other phases have been done in accordance with expansion.
The Skytrain system uses gradient to transport flowers and it has no running cost like tractors which use fuel, but only requires minimal repairs and maintenance. At Equinox, it is manned by 14 workers and transports the farms100,000 stems per day.
Njogu, avers that loses emanating from post-harvest are human made and Equinox has managed to reduce them significantly. Since they adopted the systems, they have witnessed a reduction from15 percent to 7 percent and they are still improving further especially in cold rooms; training the team to be aware that flowers should be handled with care as if they are handling a baby.
“We at Equinox believe in delivering quality products; 7 days a week, 365 days a year; consistently. Our high quality fresh roses at worst scenario if bought for a poor girl who can only afford water, can best perform on an average 15 to 20 days vase life,” he elucidated.
According to George they adopted ISO 9001:2015 Standard to bridge the gap, eliminate human errors; assuring them delivery of quality fresh roses. The Standard focuses on what you do, what can make you achieve that you want to achieve, and being a system it brings consistency in the way you do things.
”The certification process is lengthy but in summary it includes; purchasing the Standard, training staff, documenting the standard operating procedures, doing a pre-audit to identify gaps and filling the gaps before the main audit is carried out and finally the ISO certification. The standard also has a clause for continual improvement,” Njogu explained.
An incorrect pre-harvest leads to a wrong post-harvest. At Equinox, the process is monitored by an experienced team comprising of managers and supervisors, it starts with preparation and planning. This includes preparing harvesting solution and cleaning tools to be used to eliminate any micro-organism.
“Buckets for ferrying the harvested flowers and secateurs for harvesting should be thoroughly cleaned. The buckets are washed in 3 course water. First, they are washed with soap to remove dirt, followed by thoroughly washing in plain water to rinse soap, then washed with disinfected water to kill micro-organisms and eventually they are left to drip dry the water upside down on a mesh,” explained Njogu jovially.
Once the flowers being transported by the Skytrain land at the pack house, they are put in a cold room which has been demarcated into sections. In the first section, flowers are put under intense cold temperatures to control their growth before they are graded in terms of stem length, head size, variety and a protective fluted carton board put around them. Attention should be paid when packing the flowers on how they open since consciously they are smiling faces and should be the same (they need to be uniform).
From grading, flowers are stored in a cold room with less intense temperatures to enable workers to package them into boxes, before being stored in a colder cold room, waiting to be transported by refrigerated trucks for shipment.
“The temperatures have to be consistent as per the set standards and they are tracked through data-logging to constantly check functioning of the cold room system. Sometimes at night, when the pack house is not in operation we can experience electricity faults; which we automatically switch over to a standby generator,” Njogu clarified.
Equinox fully embraces technology.It has installed a weather station to monitor the variances of weather at different times of the day. This assists the farm to monitor the levels of humidity in their greenhouses.
“We have installed gadgets in the greenhouses to enable us detect presence of thrips and mites. Once they are detected, we have GPS installed in our smartphones and we are able to locate the area and apply our IPM systems of active bugs or spray appropriately,” Njogu said.
Everyone who is in the company’s quality assurance team, is in a live WhatsApp page whereby images of affected roses are captured and posted; the quality control queries are raised and prompt actions taken.
During the recently celebrated International Mother’s Day which is celebrated in May, Mr. Jones pointed out that the prices were promising unlike the United Kingdom Mother’s Day which was celebrated in March whose prices according to him were a little disappointing.