July/August 2023

NY grower adds high-tech storage capabilities
By Chris Koger, Contributing Editor

After years of contracting with other companies to store apples, a New York apple grower and packer counts efficiency and enhanced technology as key benefits of adding controlled atmosphere (CA) storage on-site.

Near Lake Ontario’s southern shore, VanDeWalle Fruit in Sodus, New York, added 13 CA rooms in 2018 and 12 more in 2022, with a total space that will hold about 25,000 bins of fruit. The first phase included a drive through, and the second phase was built facing the original 2018 storage rooms. The drive through in the center is sealed and refrigerated, allowing some non-CA cold storage.

Storage Control Systems (SCS) of Sparta, Michigan, designed and built the VanDeWalle Fruit storage rooms, which have a total capacity of about 25,000 bins. Photos courtesy of Storage Control Systems.

Storage Control Systems (SCS) of Sparta, Michigan, designed and built VanDeWalle’s CA rooms.

East of Rochester, VanDeWalle Fruit was established as a farm in 1983 and began packing in 1991. The farm grows on 1,500 acres, 1,100 of which are in production, said Marshall VanDeWalle, an owner and member of the family operation. Most of the apples are grown and packed for Hess Brothers Fruit Co. in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which directs VanDeWalle Fruit when to open CA rooms containing specific varieties.

Before, the company used several storage locations, with the largest about 15 miles away. “We had no problem with the stored apples. It was just time for us to get more vertically integrated,” VanDeWalle said. “It’s about convenience. You have more control and flexibility, and our storage operator does a great job, but he’s also available to do other things, so that helps as well.”

Storage science

Successful long-term storage of apples, some of which need to be edible 11 months after coming off the tree, is a science. And science is always finding different — and better — ways to handle fresh produce after harvest.

SCS specializes in dynamic controlled atmosphere (DCA), which uses lower oxygen content in CA rooms. CA operators who use SCS’ SafePods, which are basically miniature storage rooms, can detect potential problems for each specific variety in storage quickly.

The SafePods are self-contained and hold four bushels of fruit. Using the same conditions and gas mixture in the SafePod as in the CA room it is monitoring, operators can track fruit respiration and detect conditions that could lead to disorders such as bitter pit or internal browning.

“We’re building controlled atmosphere storages, but it’s not your grandpa’s (storage),” said Jim Schaefer, SCS president. “Everything is next-generation, and that’s really what we do in storage control: allow the grower to concentrate on other things and let the storages kind of run themselves.”

VanDeWalle said precision is needed to tailor conditions for each variety. Honeycrisps go in at 50°, are held for a specific period, and then the temperature is slowly dropped to 38°. Galas used to be stored at 32°-34°, but in recent years that has changed to 37°.

Schaefer said university research had targeted 1.8% oxygen for long-term storage.

“Well, 1.8% does not work very well for Gala, because it wants to turn brown on the inside,” he said. “In long-term CA, if you hold it at a lower oxygen percent, it will delay the browning, so you have the chance to market (Galas) through June-July.”

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