Selling a papaya crop

Papayas need to be handled with considerable care throughout the harvesting and packing processes.

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Recently, we ran a series for farmers interested in growing papayas. In this article, we take a brief look at harvesting and marketing the crop.

Papayas should be harvested at the ‘yellow break’ stage. This is when the first streak of yellow appears – a good sign that the fruit is mature and will ripen soon. In the peak season, papayas should be harvested about three times a week. During the rest of the season, mature fruit can be identified by regular scouting.

Handle the fruit with great care throughout harvesting and packing to prevent cuts and bruises. Harvest it with a 20mm portion of stem attached and pack it carefully in a single layer in a lugbox with the stem- end resting on the bottom.

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Cover the bottom of the lugbox with paper wool (a form of wadding) or other non-contaminant material that will absorb the latex draining from the stem-end. Do not let any latex drip onto the fruit during harvesting, and replace the lining daily.
Place a soft, synthetic lining on the sides of the lugbox to prevent further damage. When transporting the lugboxes to the packing shed, avoid excessive bumping.

Bulk bins should be used only if the outward appearance of the fruit is less important, such as when it is intended for processing. Even then, avoid deep bruising. At the packing shed, cut the stem to a length of about 5mm and wash the fruit in a disinfectant solution. The latter may consist of a 0,5% solution of household hypochlorite preparation in water (that is, 500ml of this preparation in 100l of water).

Packaging requirements and markets
Packaging will vary according to the requirements of the client and the intended market.

  • If you supply a retailer, prepack the fruit in attractively labelled punnets and pack these in lugboxes provided by the client;
  • If you supply a municipal market, pack the fruit in fresh fruit boxes. Wrap the individual fruit in a sheet of polystyrene wrapping or netting;
  • In the case of export fruit, ensure the boxes are made of good quality cardboard, sturdy enough to last the journey.

It is advisable to focus on a particular market and make the most of it. This is especially true if you are a new grower. All markets, however, demand quality and consistency.

The national markets are probably the biggest single outlet. Because they are operated by professional marketers, it is relatively easy for newcomers to enter the market. It is important to establish a good relationship with the marketing agent as this person can offer advice about prices and market requirements.

Most retail chains will only accept producers with proven ability to supply the quantity and quality required by the
store. Rigid standards will apply for cultivar, ripeness, packaging, blemishes and other quality characteristics.

In some cases, like organically grown produce, pre- and post-harvest practices will also be prescribed. The new papaya grower should first utilise other markets and establish himself or herself as a grower before seeking to sell direct to retailers.

Source: Directorate Agricultural Information Services, department of agriculture, in co-operation with the ARC-Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops.