PPMA Show 2021 is the UK’s leading trade event for businesses involved in packaging for agricultural and horticultural organisations. The Show will take place on at the NEC, Birmingham.
What is packaging in agriculture?
Different agricultural products come with a wide range of specific challenges for packaging. Root vegetables and many green vegetables are bulky and heavy, salads and fruits are easily damaged and dairy products need to stay cool and fresh. All need to be handled and transported from producers into the supply chain and ultimately to retail stores, fast and efficiently.
Agricultural packaging is based on multiple different types of container including bulk bags, paper bags, pouches, clamshells, bottles and trays. Containers are made from many different materials such as woven fibres, netting, plastics, fibreboard, glass and moulded pulp. Material options include many recyclable elements, and can be integrated into low environmental impact initiatives within the supply chain.
What is packaging in horticulture?
For horticultural businesses, there are the challenges of handling and bagging delicate cut flowers and fragile plants, as well as packaging for bulbs, seeds and heavier items such as soil, compost, manure and other bulk garden products. Containers and materials mirror those used in agriculture.
This year’s PPMA Show is the perfect place to find out more about the latest developments in packaging for agriculture and horticulture and to meet the PPMA members.
What packaging machines are used in agriculture?
After harvesting, agricultural produce is moved from the field to packing areas either on the farm or at an alternative facility. Harvesters, tractors and trailers remain common sights in the fields, with an increasing use being made of control systems, especially for mechanical picking.
Sortation, weighing and quality control
Depending on the product, produce is made ready for packing through an arrangement of tables, conveyors, sortation, weighing and filling equipment. The process may be fully or semi-automated, yet may involve significant amounts of manual labour.
In automated systems, as part of the quality control process, colour sorting machines can be used for agricultural grain and rice. The optical sorter separates stones, animal droppings and discoloured, toxic or otherwise unacceptable items.
Bagging and packing
The produce is bagged or packed according to its specific requirements. Potatoes, for example, can be lifted onto a gravity fed chute which directs the vegetables into bags of various sizes, from bulk bags for intermediate transport, or smaller retail-ready bags. After gentle sortation, softer products, such as strawberries and tomatoes, are fed into trays of different sizes. Larger, stackable fibreboard trays can be left unwrapped for traditional display at greengrocers, while smaller trays can be flow-wrapped in plastic film ready for supermarket-type retailers.
The job of palletising agricultural produce is now frequently machine-led, albeit manual working is still considered the best option for smaller operations (or runs and cycles). Once loaded on pallets, the produce is ready for the next stage of its journey to retailers and other end users.
Agricultural packaging equipment can be sourced as individual items, or as fully integrated lines with multiple options on controls and automation.
What types of packaging are used in agriculture and horticulture?
Bulk bags are also known as flexible intermediate bulk containers. They are most commonly made from woven polypropylene, which is strong, durable and weather resistant. Produce is transported in bulk bags for distribution within regions and across international borders, and then repackaged in smaller units. Jute and burlap are also frequently used for heavier produce.
Paper bags can be used for a variety of dry products up to 25 kg in weight. They are a common choice for handling transporting and storing harder fruit and vegetables, as well as corn, flour, and various loose and bulk goods. Paper bags can be multi-walled for additional strength, and made of recycled or virgin paper. High-quality printing options are available for almost papers.
Netting combines strength and ventilation for fruit, vegetables and horticultural products such as flower bulbs. The traditional onion bag is rarely made of cotton string these days, but man made netting materials do the job just as well.
Corrugated fibreboard is used as standard, folded and fastened by hand or machine into sturdy trays and boxes. The containers are strong and stackable, will stand up to wet weather, and are generally recyclable. The material also carries print very well, so can be produced ready for display on retail shelves.
Clamshell packs are used for softer fruits and vegetables. Lidded packs are moulded from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and PP (polypropylene). A variation on PET is RPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate). PET is recyclable, but RPET is also made of recycled material. The containers protect produce from bruising and contact damage, with ventilator holes helping to keep the contents fresh.
Cartons are an essential part of dairy packaging and are used for milk, cream and other liquid products, while yoghurts are generally packed in plastic pots which increasingly are made of recyclable material. Pots are sealed and topped with foil.
Glass bottles continue to be used extensively, although their weight remains a concern for carbon footprint considerations. Lighter glass is an option for some producers, while others are moving to lighter weight cartons and pouches.
Egg boxes are generally made from moulded fibre pulp, either in the form of lidded boxes or open trays. RPET alternatives are also in common use.
Visitors to PPMA SHOW 2021 will benefit from seeing the latest developments in packaging machinery for agriculture. The Show takes place at the NEC. We look forward to seeing you there.