In the agricultural business, growers and packers don’t often want to “accelerate” the rate of their product ripening. After all, this process can lead to oxidation, spoil, and loss. For citrus growers and packers, however, encouraging and controlling the ripening of your fruit is essential and can provide a leading edge in the market. In addition to winning grocery store contracts, it can help in the competition for direct and wholesale contracts.
Degreening rooms are a must-have for citrus business operations. The bright, orange and yellow tones found in storebought citrus don’t come on quickly or uniformly on their own—and when harvested at an immature, green stage, this citrus may never naturally ripen. Rather, ripening is encouraged by the “degreening” process: the removal of green citrus skin to ready it for market.
For any grower or packer, time is money, and the waiting (and sorting) game—especially for citrus—is best avoided. Investing in degreening rooms and supplies are the answer. Read on to learn why degreening rooms help to ready your production, marketing, and sales to the next level.
What is degreening?
Degreening citrus helps to remove the green color from the outer rinds of any citrus fruit (save limes or bergamot). The goal: to encourage fruit to exhibit its more festive and appealing yellow or orange trademark tones through a natural process brought on by environmental conditions. The good news? Ideal degreening conditions can be recreated and controlled, ensuring ripeness and uniformity.
According to Fresh View Post Harvest Technology Solutions, the green unripe pigment in citrus skins is chlorophyll, which can be ushered towards colorful ripening with the help of ethylene gas. This naturally occurring gas is emitted by practically all fruits as they ripen, and it organically speeds up the process. However, with larger quantities of ethylene gas, ripening can be sped up even more controllably. In the agricultural industry, artificial degreening control can be accomplished by using these much higher amounts of ethylene gas than what is naturally found in the fruits, and wielded in controlled environments to bring post-harvest citrus closer to market.
Unlike a variety of other marketable fresh fruits (including tomatoes), citrus does not ripen any further once it is harvested from the tree, which deems the degreening approach as imperative in scaling up success.
What is a degreening room?
A degreening room is the most sophisticated way you can control degreening in citrus with the help of ethylene gas. An enclosed space makes it much easier to measure the amounts of ethylene released, thus giving growers and packers greater control over the ripening process. You can also control temperature and humidity, both of which are pivotal to success.
Because ethylene on its own won’t help with degreening, a dedicated room is all the more essential to scaling up. It’s only in a controlled, enclosed space that temperature and humidity can be effective. Temperatures must be maintained at levels around or below 60˚F for optimal color encouragement, and humidity must be kept high in relation to low temperature (between 80-100%). As these conditions are not natural, reliable, or expected around the times and seasons when citrus is ready for post-harvest and market, a degreening room is a reliable asset.
How do degreening rooms work?
A combination of correctly measured ethylene, managed temperature, and calibrated humidity are among the benefits of degreening rooms. But how do degreening rooms function, and what goes into a successful setup?
For many growers and packers, you’ll find that most basic walk-in coolers can double as rudimentary degreening rooms, so long as both humidity and temperature can be simultaneously managed. Some walk-ins may need to be adjusted so that excessive condensation does not lead to freezing during degreening, which can damage the marketability of the product. In the same vein, inadequate humidity can also damage fruit. It is important that humidity be kept high and at the right levels, otherwise fruit shrinking or blemishes may occur.
You’ll need to alter or retrofit cooler appliances to allow applications of ethylene into the enclosed space, typically incorporated into the air intake of your room or cooler. Some companies also offer ethylene controllers or sensors to ensure proper sustained levels of ethylene gas— too much can mar product, while too little will not be effective. A way to measure the gas levels in the room will be imperative, and some companies and agricultural professionals can help to consult and install a fully functional, operational, and easy-to-use degreening room for your enterprise, using the best and latest technology.
Growers, packers and employees, when around the use of high amounts of ethylene gas, shouldn’t be concerned about side effects or health hazards. However, ethylene can pose a considerable fire hazard and increased risk of explosion if exposed to flame. Setup of a degreening room, and proper training of employees for safety, should absolutely be taken into account. Proper insurance policies protecting your business, your personnel, and yourself, should be put in place.
Degreening is crucial to the success of citrus growing at the post-harvest stage. But even more crucial is the need to do it correctly and professionally. Degreening rooms are the primary solution for the most competitive growers and packers in the market, and particularly advantageous when built with the latest technology and thoughtfully sought-after expertise.
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