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NZ Fruit Grader Boosts Export Dollars

A machine originally developed by an Auckland engineering company to sort New Zealand kiwifruit and apples is finding favour with overseas growers and packers – and not just for the job it does with these fruit.

Compac Sorting Equipment Ltd marketing manager James Flocchini says the machine's capability has widened to include grading stonefruit, avocados, tomatoes, mandarins, oranges, lemons, capsicum, onions and potatoes in New Zealand and overseas.

"Earlier this year it kept in business one of the biggest citrus-packers in California," Mr Flocchini says. "They were having a very hard time after a bad freeze, and this grader enabled them to separate the good oranges from the freeze-damaged fruit."

Compac developed the technology for the grader with support from Technology New Zealand, which invests in research into new products, processes or services. The research has enabled Compac to help New Zealand apple packers to meet the grade requirements in world markets, "especially in Europe and the United States", Mr Flocchini says.

The software also gave the company the capability to adapt the grader for other fruits.

Essentially it consists of a carrier system from 15 to 50 metres in length. It uses weighing equipment, cameras and a software system that sort fruit by colour-based marks. Mr Flocchini says that since the introduction of the technology developed from the research project, more than 40 graders have been built, several for overseas customers.

Gerald Denni, general manager of California orange packer Golden Valley Citrus, says the Compac equipment helped them through a particularly difficult time.
"We had a severe frost in December last year," he says. "We knew we would be in trouble if we couldn't get a better rate of good fruit from the spoiled fruit, so we bought the Compac equipment.

"It enabled us to save 30 percent of the fruit, when our competitors, who were using the old water sorters, were able to save only 20-25 percent. It was just what we needed to keep the business going. It saved our butt."

Compac Sorting Equipment Ltd, which has been in business since 1984, was formerly known as Horticultural Automation Ltd. Located in Onehunga, Auckland, the company designs and manufactures mechanical, electronic and software systems to sort fruits and vegetables.
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