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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Report on Apples Exported Per S.S. "Tainui."

Report on Apples Exported Per S.S. "Tainui."

Sir,—

I have the honour to report that I watched the shipment of apples consigned by the above-named steamer from Auckland to London in order to note what improvements in packing, handling, stowing of fruit, and arrangement of cool-chambers might be effected.

The s.s. "Tainui" had two small chambers provided for fruit, which held between them some 2,300 cases, some hundreds of cases being shut out for want of room. Fortunately another steamer was in Auckland at the time, and took those cases.

Cool-chambers.

I found the chambers provided clean and sweet. The floor of one was wet: at my suggestion sawdust was spread on it to absorb the moisture.

A great defect was at once apparent, no means of ventilation being provided for the exit of the carbonic-acid gas given off from the fruit. The chambers are closed by air-tight doors, and a great part of the fruit must necessarily remain in a stagnant bath of gas, which must damage it more or less. There may be a little circulation at the top of the chambers caused by the ingress and egress of the cold air, but, owing to the greater weight of the carbonic-acid gas, this draught cannot descend to the bottom of the chamber: page 7 were the cold-air trunks placed on the floor, instead of at the roofs of the chambers, they would no doubt draw off the gas.

Another defect is, that, while the chambers are insulated to prevent heat from entering from outside, the cold-air trunks that pass through the chambers, conveying air at a temperature of from 30° to 60° below zero, are simply made of inch timber, and have no insulation to prevent this extreme cold from penetrating and freezing the fruit stowed close to the trunks. Certainly battens were placed between the trunks and the cases, but that I consider insufficient. At my suggestion some old canvas was placed over the cases immediately in front and below the vent-holes by which the cold air gains access to the chambers, in order to prevent the air playing upon and freezing the fruit in the case immediately in front of the hole, and also to catch the snow which occasionally blows through and falls on the case under the hole.

In the foregoing I think I have found the cause of every here and there a case in the London sales catalogues being marked "frost-bitten," and selling for two or three shillings, when others are bringing 12s. to 18s. Another defect in the cooling is that the chambers are only cooled from one side: in consequence the temperature is much higher—from 10° to 20°—at the side of the chamber where the air finds egress into the return trunks, than it is at the other side of the chamber. It would be an improvement if the cold air could be admitted at either side alternately. In my opinion an entire change in the method of cooling chambers for the safe conveyance of both fruit and cheese is required, which change I think should be in the direction of ventilating-fans circulating a large body of cool air, 40° Fahr., through the chamber, and not, as at present, forcing in a small quantity of freezing air 30° or 40° below-zero, with the object of gradually cooling the mass of stagnant air and gas in the chamber.

Stowing the Fruit.

The stevedore whom I inspected stowing the fruit on the "Tainui" used his best endeavours to make the chambers hold as many cases as possible. He had some difficulty, owing to several-sized cases being shipped, but he succeeded in packing the chamber full to the roof. This proved a great mistake, as the engineer found he was unable to get the temperature down to the desired point, 40° Fahr.—this in consequence of no space being left for the air to circulate above the stack of fruit. During the trip from Auckland to Wellington one chamber was got down to 50° Fahr.; but the other could not be reduced below 63° Fahr.

Fortunately the vessel did not proceed on her voyage direct after taking in the fruit, so, on reaching Wellington the chambers were opened, and the stack of fruit taken down, and re-stowed in a way to leave some space at the top.

It is evident that a space must be left between the top of the stack of fruit and the roof of the chamber—say, 4in. to 6in.—for the free circulation of the cold air.

Captain Babot, Marine Superintendent of the Shaw-Savill Company, has had so much trouble with this shipment that he will take page 8 care in future that the chambers are not stowed too full. The s.s. "Kaikoura," now loading at Auckland, has not hitherto carried fruit. I have advised the chief engineer, chief officer, and the marine superintendent of the New Zealand Shipping Company on the stowing of the fruit, so that difficulty will not occur in that vessel. They also, to some extent, insulated the cold-air trunks before leaving Wellington by sheathing them with thick felt and fixing battens on the outside.

Handling the Fruit.

Great improvement is wanted in the way in which fruit is handled at the port of shipment. The knocking-about in the various handlings it receives while being carted and transhipped makes it almost a wonder that any of it should reach market in good condition.

The average lumper seems unable to comprehend that anything should be put down gently; with him every case is dropped with a jar sufficient to bruise much of the contents, and when fruit transhipped from coastal steamers receives eight or ten jars in course of being put on board the direct steamer, much of it must be seriously damaged. When passed on board fruit should be passed from hand to hand, and not put down with more or less of a jar by each man. When slung on board or out of coastal steamers, rope slings should on no account be used, as they almost invariably crush two cases in each slingful. I would recommend a canvas sling—a modified form of the kind used for frozen sheep—as likely to meet the want of an improved sling for fruit.

Cases.

It is very desirable that one uniform size of case be adopted. As yet there is but little uniformity. By the s.s. "Tainui" some five or six shapes were sent. The largest number, and undoubtedly the best cases, forwarded were the American-shaped cases: measurements—ends, 11in. by 12in., inch stuff; tops and bottoms, one piece, 12in. by 20in., 3/8in. stuff; sides in two pieces, 6in. by 20in., 3/8in. stuff; clean-sawn kahikatea tops, bottoms, and sides; the end pieces planed. This case is easier to handle than the flat case; it is also economical in price, in freight, and easier to pack than the flat case, and holds the same quantity of fruit. The saving in cost on a hundred cases, American shape, is 9s. 5d., and the saving in freight at present rate on a hundred of the same is 40s. I would advise every shipper of apples in the colony to adopt this as the standard export case for New Zealand; it would then soon become known on the London market as the New Zealand case, in contradistinction to the flat Tasmanian case.

Generally the cases are supplied by the timber mills to the growers in the flat, ready to nail together, but sometimes growers or packers in the vicinity of the mills prefer to get the cases ready made up. Such cases I found were very slightly nailed—indeed, they were so badly put together that quite a number of the lids fell off on the cases being lifted from the wagons in which they were brought to the ship's side. This brings me to another point—the

page 9

Shipper's Work.

Having no authority to open for examination the cases of fruit being shipped, I had no means of judging of the quality; but when the tops fell off some cases I was then enabled to examine the contents of those cases, and I much regret to report that in one instance at least apples were packed that were utterly unfit for export. How the shipper could expect a profitable return for such fruit is more than one can comprehend. The variety was Reinette du Canada, the fruit small and inferior; in addition, about one apple out of every three was so misshaped, cracked, and blemished as to be rendered quite unfit for sale.

This I think a matter of great moment, and one calculated to do much injury to this young industry, the shipper of such inferior fruit not only damaging his own brand, but likewise blemishing the good name that New Zealand fruit has already made for itself in the London market. If this pernicious practice prevails to any extent it is hopeless to expect to gain the premier position in the English fruit market, which experts, who have been highly-pleased with the trial-shipments of previous years, have promised us.

In the other cases which I examined the fruit was of good quality, but no attempt at grading was apparent, large and small being packed in the same case. The London fruiterers prefer, and will pay a higher price for, fruit graded to an even size. It is a somewhat difficult matter sometimes to pack tightly with fruit of one size. When such is the case a few smaller fruit are admissible to finish off the ends of rows. Very few cases were packed so tight as not to move when the ease was shaken. This was to be expected, as a large number of the cases had been packed for two, some three, weeks before shipment: this was owing to uncertainty in the movements of the direct steamers. As all fruit shrinks a little after being picked, it was to be expected that cases which doubtless were tight when packed should shake a little two weeks afterwards; but some lots just packed were observed to be very loose. In some cases there was a space of 2in. between the fruit and the top of the case. I fear such will be badly bruised ere reaching market. As to the packing, almost all had the apples rolled up separately in white tissue-paper. Some, in addition, had the eases lined with paper, while the tightest and best-packed lot I saw was one which, in addition to the above, had a handful or two of paper-shavings, such as accumulate in a publisher's workshop, spread at bottom and top of case. This was a good idea, the shavings serving as a spring-buffer, and saving the fruit from many a bruising jar.

In conclusion, I am of opinion that in order to foster the fruit-export industry it would be advisable to have the shipments, for a time at least, superintended by an expert, in order to prevent rough handling, which is fatal to such tender produce as fruit. If I am in the service of your department next shipping season I shall make it my duty to undertake this work as far as possible. In case of steamers loading fruit at distant ports at or about the same time, I should endeavour to get some competent person to undertake the work when I was unable to be present.

Some growers seem to think it would be much for the benefit of page 10 the industry if the Government were to inspect all fruit shipped, and brand all that was of a standard quality with a Government brand; but I fail to see how this idea can be worked. First, it would cause great loss of time, opening and branding each lot as it was brought forward; secondly, considerable damage to cases and fruit would most certainly occur; thirdly, it would entail considerable expenditure without, I fear, an adequate return.

I have much more faith in the establishment of active fruitgrowers' associations in all the centres of fruit-culture, one of the duties of such associations being to inspect and work up to a high standard of quality all the fruit shipped by the members of such associations. This with the assistance of your fruit expert, it being part of his duties to visit and confer with the secretaries and members of all associations on the best methods of preparing fruit for export, and giving demonstration of picking, packing, &c., and so organizing that eventually these associations may meet in conference in the chief centres of population for the purpose of furthering the industry by co-operation in every way. When they have attained a fairly uniform standard of quality, then a registered brand might be given to each association for the use of its members.

The chief work of fruit-growers' associations devolves upon the secretary. Hitherto the office has been an honorary one; but, as it is unfair to expect a man to devote much of his time without remuneration, it would be a great encouragement if a small subsidy, of, say, £10, were granted to each association representing at least fifty acres of orchard.

In other colonies the Governments have granted considerable amounts for the encouragement of horticulture, in the shape of a bonus on each case of fruit exported, and grants to the horticultural societies. In my opinion the colony may attain as good, if not better, results by far less expenditure on the lines here indicated. The encouraging of these associations as a method of fostering the fruit industry is of the greatest importance, and I hope it will receive consideration from you.

When the bulk of the fruit exported from this colony is sent under a registered brand buyers will be chary of purchasing lots without the brand, and this alone would soon cause the careless packer to mend his ways, or cease shipping. Inferior fruit simply aids in depressing markets, and interferes seriously with the sale of good fruit, and it is neither profitable to the shipper nor creditable to the colony.

I have, &c.,

Lionel Hanlon,

Instructor in Fruit-culture. The Hon. the Minister of Lands and Agriculture.

P.S.—I attach copy of letter I wrote to the New Zealand Herald, re shipment of fruit per ss. "Tainui."—L. H.