Located in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, Sitrusrand is one of the citrus industry’s great success stories. What started as a 10-hectare mixed farm now stretches for 60 kilometers along the Sundays River, with 1,400 hectares dedicated to citrus fruits which the business packs itself. Employing 1,500 people, Sitrusrand exports citrus fruit to many countries around the world. International sales have been built on a reputation for continuous supply and consistent product quality.
Sitrusrand has expanded massively since Pieter Nortje, grandson of the farm’s founder, joined his father at the business in 1994. “Fortune favors the brave,” says Pieter, “and I always knew I wanted to farm on a bigger scale. I bought more farms and by travelling the world I was able to see the needs of different markets. It became my strategy to be able to supply supermarkets with a continuous presence of our fruit, and of the same quality.”
Within a year Pieter joining the business, he had decided to build the farm’s first packhouse. This, he admits, “was a bit primitive. I was spending every single minute of the day in there, and I remember how tough it was sorting fruit by hand, making decisions between four classes of fruit. So I looked at packhouses in Europe with the latest technology. Then, when it became financially viable, we fitted the latest equipment.
“Through mechanical sorting it became possible to eliminate human error and deliver consistent quality. Now the quality decisions were made instantly by computer and we were in full control of quality settings. Optical sorting made it possible for us to pack the same quality into a carton, and to adapt to market requirements, whether it’s packing better quality or lesser quality. Also, these days food safety is paramount worldwide, and our ability to pack fruit with lower or zero residues has given us a competitive edge. We can guarantee our customers what’s in the carton, and through that we’ve been able to create a brand.”
As Sitrusrand grew, Pieter opened a second packhouse, then a third. This made it possible to dedicate one packhouse exclusively to oranges, another to lemons, and another to soft citrus. But still production grew faster than packing capacity – and so, in 2020, the business opened its fourth packhouse. This is equipped with TOMRA’s Spectrim sorter and grader, plus the Inspectra² platform for internal defect grading.
The Spectrim and Inspectra² sorting and grading platforms
You need the best equipment to get the best results,” says Pieter, “and with Spectrim and Inspectra², that’s what we’ve got. These machines have opened up new opportunities – especially the brix grading with Inspectra².”
The Spectrim sorter and grader is the world’s most powerful fresh produce grading platform. With consistent lighting, powerful imaging, two infrared wavelengths, and machine learning, its accuracy is industry-leading. Spectrim sorts and grades minor and major defects, including surface blemishes, insect damage, misshapen fruit, bruising, and abrasions, and can identify hard-to-find product defects, including clear rot. Sorting parameters can be configured to grade for differing levels of defects, giving line operators the control to match product grades to different markets.
The Inspectra² platform for internal defect grading utilizes a near-infrared spectrometer, mainly to detect brix, but also to provide valuable information about other properties important to citrus growers and packers. These detection capabilities keep bad fruit out of a good box, ensure fruit with the preferred taste profile goes to the right market, and help growers adjust their practices in the field to optimize internal fruit quality.
Dependable for quantity as well as quality
Sitrusrand Estate’s Production Manager, Attie Janse van Rensburg, explains: “We specialize in packing exactly what the customer needs. Our goal is to deliver quality food to markets all over the world, and we need the best machinery money can buy to get the best quality. Spectrim and Inspectra² have met our expectations, and then some. TOMRA understands what we need to see on a piece of fruit, what we need to do with it, and what we can do with it.
“Spectrim is a lot better than our previous sorting equipment – we can sort-out a lot of blemishes with it, things we previously couldn’t sort-out. Whatever you want taken out, the machine can do it – not only according to blemishes, but with Inspectra², also according to the fruit’s sugar content. This has opened up new trading possibilities for us.
“Traceability is also very important. We have to be able to trace our food back to the orchard where it was packed. TOMRA has played a vital role in this. This is important, not only for the market’s sake, but for ours as well: if food is picked-up in the packhouse that we think was handled incorrectly, can sort out that problem in the orchard to prevent it happening again.”
Attie observes that it is not only consistency of product quality that matters. He explains: “We also need consistency in our ability to deliver the fruit. And Spectrim helps with this too, because there is very little machine downtime. Spectrim and Inspectra² are very user-friendly, and TOMRA’s training was excellent. This means TOMRA’s help is not needed much – but when it is, they are there, whether it’s with remote support or visiting in person.”
When Attie Janse van Rensburg is asked to sum-up his experience since investing in Spectrim and Inspectra², his answer comes without hesitation: “TOMRA Food is an amazing company to work with. And these are amazing machines. At Sitrusrand we pride ourselves on doing the best for our fruit, and TOMRA is the best we can do for our fruit.”
For further information about TOMRA, visit www.tomra.com.