Harvesting for the fresh produce market demands conscientious, strategic attention to quality metrics that determine the worth of a season. Done right, and the maximized return is clear for all parties in the supply chain. Gathering key data insights at the orchard or on receipt at the packinghouse boosts the efficiency of the steps that follow: pack or store, then ship.

Presorting enables better product-market fit of inventory as it rolls in, and (depending on the commodity) enters controlled atmosphere (CA) storage for a pack-to-order workflow.

Ideal for large operations, many packhouses embrace presorting lines as an important step before grading and packing. Some prefer to sidestep the method in hopes of avoiding a redundant practice for their context, unnecessary costs, or the risk of damage. Assessment tools like Harvest Quality Vision help you make sorting decisions without increasing the risk of damage.

Fruit sorting methods


Pre-sorting enables a refined order fulfillment process during postharvest. Fruit sorting can be completed manually, or with automated systems.

How is produce graded? Understanding apple grade standards

Grade standards are formed by interrelated criteria defined by international and regional parameters, as well as internal brand specifications. Using apples as an example, U.S. Grade Standards No. 1 and No. 2 are relatively different in the percentage allowance of defects per apple that might end up being removed as waste. U.S. No. 1 permits five percent or less defective, and U.S. No. 2 permits twelve percent or less.

These grades do not encompass size criteria – this specification is determined between the grower and the seller. Internal grading standards correlate to market demand. The apple industry’s top grades are associated with the most appealing and precise hue and size ranges, with lower grades allowing for greater variability due to being valued for processing.

A great example of more refined, localized grading standards are those of Washington state apple producers. Color specifications for red varieties of “Washington Apples” require a more uniform, intense hue, and extremely little tolerance for blemishes on green and yellow varieties. Internal quality standards include stringent minimum sugar, firmness, and soluble solid levels.

The benefits that drive pre-sorting practices

Quite simply: if there’s more information to base decisions on for product-market fit, the better. So how does presorting help operational efficiency in a packhouse?

Pack-to-order inventory is achievable

The less handling of produce the better – this especially goes for the fruit bound for fresh-cut processing. Ship the ideal fruit for its next supply chain destination with quick turnaround and little handling with a “virtual presorting” tool like Harvest Quality Vision, and you can sidestep the surprise thumb prints

Enable a strong pack-to-order inventory strategy by knowing the size and color distribution of the lot. Pack-to-order invites opportunity for cost savings through better storage use – with fewer mispacks and a higher rate of quality among pieces stored, there’s less need for space to accommodate loose pallets that are in need of a buyer. Since packed pallets can’t be stacked, being stuck with some that aren’t able to ship yet is a drain on space resources. Repacking increases the rate of damaged pieces, so full pallets tend to stay put once assembled.

Boost workflow efficiency of the packinghouse

With a packline prepped in advance, there’s greater opportunity for an efficient packout. Knowing what’s about to come down the line optimizes the throughput and operational flow, protecting the quality of the fruit – and the marketing team can find buyers faster. Obtaining greater sample size data in a shorter amount of time provides opportunities to refine staffing numbers for packing. The ideal drops can be set up for arranging fruit appropriately for its destination, with fewer interruptions for course correction.

Streamline accurate grower payouts

Presorting with a quick turn around helps pay out the growers faster. Determine grower payouts by calculating the rate of pay owed using empirical data from a fruit sorting machine – or take an HQV scan that offers a statistically relevant view into the distribution of a lot. Taking this approach increases the accuracy of payouts while saving time and labor.

Optimize storage use by vetting the highest quality fruit

Prioritize the best of the best along with grouping like fruit together. CA storage is expensive to create and maintain, so it’s important to maximize every space to make the most of it. Presorting offers the opportunity to make sharper choices on the order of what goes into each room, so when it’s time to open a sealed area for packing out, the right fruit is available exactly when you need it. Vetting the highest quality fruit to go into CA storage saves the trouble of sneaky defects taking up room (and causing other issues!) that could have gone to prime, high value fruit.

Drawbacks to fruit sorting with presorters

Using a presorter as part of a postharvest workflow doesn’t fit every operation. Here are a few common downsides for consideration when deciding what could optimize the steps between receiving and shipping out:


A lack of machine delicacy can increase product damage

Tender fruit growers know that damage is always a high-priority concern for their harvests, which makes some packing houses that focus on these fruits hesitant toward pre-sorting line equipment.

The thinking here is, why add another layer of mechanical processing for the data insights, if this leads to a higher cull rate from preventable damage? May as well forfeit the details and commit to pack. Presorting lines with gentleness in mind have begun to proliferate the market, introducing skeptics to a viable option, but the cost of getting started with a new machine system can still remain a barrier.

Prohibitively high investment, logistical, and operational costs for small operations

It’s harder for small growers to invest in an elaborate new presorter system. The footprint for the machinery may be too large for existing buildings on site, for example. Should a new building need to be built altogether, it will take up valuable land that would otherwise be free for growing. This might be worthwhile, but at minimum opens up a whole extra set of considerations to keep in mind when approaching the decision.

One being logistical pains for getting equipment components to your area. Some are huge, and require international production and shipment by water. Depending on your regions the different parts are coming from, everything required for operations may not be able to reach you for multiple seasons.

Apart from the installation, the operational costs can also be steep. Electricity, water and the appropriate accompanying sanitation inputs become pricey quickly. Staffing is required to operate the lines, too, though there can be savings here in comparison to the lower volume of measured fruit that can be captured manually.

And then, there’s the breakdown risk. With equipment so intricate and specialized, when something goes wrong it’s sure to take some time to have the right person on site to do the repair. If operations need to pause while repairs are pending, the potential losses from halting the workflow can be massive.

Presorting line results can be redundant

From the outside it may seem counter-productive, but there can be less incentive for large, vertically-integrated operations to invest in presorting despite their scale. Vertically-integrated operations can take advantage of having full control of production management: if it’s your team at every point in the production process, then stringent sampling from across orchard sites can facilitate accumulative tracking to indicate the harvest season’s trajectory.

If you can obtain sample data along the way to predict harvest outcomes, why invest in a costly, expansively large presorting line? An understandable sentiment. That’s why Harvest Quality Vision is a great option for vertically integrated agribusinesses: it can provide additional nuance to the data from earlier in the season with quick scan captures of sample bins, so you can get an even better idea as to where a harvest lot should go next. And the fruit doesn’t have to leave the site to get this information: it can still be at the orchard.

Mitigating health and safety risks of postharvest water

Using one standard post-harvest wash step was originally thought to be sufficient in commercial conditions, for the removal of field-acquired contamination – but research prioritized the evaluation of effective sanitizer applications, over washing efficacy. As studies have progressed, it’s become clear that initial post-harvest washing is insufficient, and can potentially lead to cross-contamination events in spite of efforts.

Water submerged apples

Flumes and wash stations are a normal element of packing house's sorting lines, and remain important steps in postharvest production. Although water can reduce potential contamination, it can also serve as a source of contamination (or cross-contamination) when coming into contact with produce.

FDA guidelines for microbial food safety assert that reusing processing water is risky. Prevention of contamination is preferred over application of antimicrobial chemicals after contamination occurs. Incorrect reuse of processing water may result in the build-up of microbial loads, including undesirable pathogens from the crop, and negates preventative cleaning measures. Water quality that is similar to drinking water standards is recommended for processing. Good manufacturing practices do allow for strategic use of reused water when it poses minimal contamination risk, like reusing final rinse water after a lot has been packaged, as opposed to recycling from an early stage dump tank, full of field soil from various locations.

Take advantage of virtual sorting with Harvest Quality Vision

There always could be another lane added for better pre-sorting. But packhouses already have to manage within the realities of time and physical space constraints as it is.

Croptracker app on iPad scanning a bin

Harvest Quality Vision can fill in the gaps with a comparable value of an additional lane with comprehensive reporting immediately uploaded and accessible through Croptracker’s cloud platform.

The fruit won't wait. This season, gather more information without slowing down operations. Capture 100,000 size and color data points in under ten seconds, with just an iOS device. Learn more about Harvest Quality Vision here.

Croptracker develops agtech solutions for industry leaders. Our mission is to make crop production safer, more efficient, and more profitable. Designed with fresh market producers and distributors in mind, every tool we create is based on direct industry feedback. Croptracker’s award-winning farm software optimizes recordkeeping, labor tracking, production and cost management. Our integrative Harvest Quality Vision technology offers instant empirical analysis of crop samples exactly when you need it. Optimize your harvest season with Croptracker’s customizable solutions.