- Press release
, François-Xavier Branthôme
Since 2015, researchers in France have been carrying out several recurrent projects (Tom’ability projects) focusing on the integration of the agricultural upstream and the industrial downstream sectors as well as on the management of quality issues in the production of tomatoes. The main topics being studied have been the impact of irrigation water restrictions on the quality of fresh fruit and subsequent alterations in quality of manufactured products.
By studying the diversity of French productions and the various setups both in open fields and in greenhouses, scientists have identified good levers for progress linked to water management as well as to the management of product quality.
- Decreasing irrigation to the point of only replacing 50% of the PET of plants has little or no effect on yield, and in any case does not reduce the soluble solids contents (though it may actually increase it), which is a bonus for processors. Currently, practices within the industry usually include replacing between 120% and 180% of the PET. Already published research results have led a number of professionals to change their cultivation techniques.
- Simply cultivating crops with lower irrigation has increased the efficiency of water (which is the quantity of raw material produced by 1 m3 of irrigation water) from 27 to 37 kg/m3. This result represents a significant ecological improvement.
- The fruit produced with a water deficit present more or less the same composition as other fruit, and do not present any metabolic disorders.
However, they do not always have the same reactivity with regard to processing operations: when put through the same cooking processes, they tend to lose less viscosity when they are processed into purées in certain conditions, which is an indication of a lower level of pectinolytic enzymes (responsible for modifications in the texture of the purées).
- The quality of purées, particularly the texture, varies greatly depending on the date of the harvest. So it remains a major challenge for agriculture to be able to determine the optimal ripening point for a given variety intended for processing, and particularly to be able to predict the optimal harvest period thanks to weather data collected from the field itself. The use of multispectral photo sensors (fitted on drones or on static installations) has shown a strong potential for the monitoring and recording of fruit ripening processes.
- There is a clear disconnection between the soluble sugars contents (°Brix), viscosity, and soluble solids content. Furthermore, the rheological mechanisms that control these changes in viscosity are not always the same. When they are induced by a given cooking method, it is mainly the viscosity of the serum (the liquid part of purée) that is affected. When they are induced by the use of a variety with a strong viscosity potential (tomatoes intended for ketchup), it is the size and shape of the particles and their potential for aggregation that make the difference. So it is possible to make use of several levers in order to modify the quality of purées.
- Infrared spectroscopy coupled with a multi-annual model is able to predict the precise composition of fruit with one single measurement (not only Brix, but also the soluble solids contents and the titratable acidity). This technique has also shown potential for discriminating between products according to their cooking method and their origin (variety and place of production). Transferring this tool to an industrial setting is one of the challenges for better fruit grading at factory reception points as well as the monitoring of the quality of products manufactured during the process.
These results have been published or made available in international scientific publications (including an article in the high impact potential scientific periodical "Frontiers in Plant Science"). They have been presented to industry professionals in various settings, including at scientific congresses like the joint Congress of the WPTC (13th World Processing Tomato Congress) and the ISHS (15th ISHS Symposium on the Processing Tomato). Finally, the transfer of knowledge and expertise from researchers to operating professionals is the focus of a number of presentation meetings organized by all three structures that are partnering in this project.
These projects can now serve as a basis for the development of innovative solutions for the processing industry (development of an infrared tool adapted to the tomato processing industry, identification of new criteria for genetic selection, definition of new markers of qualities related to agricultural upstream ...). The project partners are open to new collaborations with professionals in this direction.
Indeed, Tom’ability is the fruit of an established and long-lasting collaboration between:
- The Sonito, the interbranch organization of the tomato industry, which collects agricultural and socio-economic data on the industry and organizes field experimentation programs,
- the CTPCA, which contributes its expertise and offers innovative solutions for carrying out processing operations,
- the INRA, the PSH unit (plants and horticultural systems), which contributes its expertise in agronomy and ecophysiological modelization,
- and the SQPOV unit (Safety and quality of products of plant origin), which specializes in the characterization of fruit and vegetables and their processing.
Contacts: David Page (email@example.com), Stéphane Georgé (firstname.lastname@example.org), Nicolas Biau (email@example.com), Robert Giovinazzo (firstname.lastname@example.org)