Pre-harvest practices that will increase the shelf-life and freshness of vegetables
Consumer satisfaction and value chain development are key priorities for the vegetable industry. Quality, including freshness and shelf-life, the length of time produce remains fresh and saleable, is a critical issue for vegetables, which typically withstand the stresses of the farm to fork supply chain operations. External quality of fresh vegetables relates to the appearance and freshness of the product, firmness, and aroma. These characteristics are inspected readily by the senses and determine the acceptability and purchase willingness of consumers. Internal quality, including flavour, internal appearance, and texture, is critical to the eating satisfaction of consumers and is a key driver to promoting repeat sales and vegetable consumption. In addition to being important sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre, the presence of health-promoting bioactive compounds such as antioxidants and pigments has increased interest in vegetable consumption. As a result, health and well-being have been increasingly recognised as powerful non-sensory drivers for vegetable consumption. Pre-harvest production practices are critical in developing optimal quality of vegetable crops, which depends on the interaction of genetic, agronomic, and environmental factors. Since quality of vegetables cannot be improved postharvest, identifying the best combinations of these pre-harvest factors is a key strategy to maximise vegetable quality to meet consumer needs. Although there is considerable research over the years, the information is scattered across many documents such as industry reports, scientific journals, and conference proceedings. This comprehensive review aimed to compile current knowledge on the effects of pre-harvest factors on shelf-life and quality of vegetables, and develop an information package to increase grower awareness, foster adoption of practices that can enhance quality across the industry, and potentially add value to Australian vegetables. The scope of this review included the following vegetables: Asian vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, capsicum, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chilli, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, kale, lettuce, parsley, pumpkin, rocket, silverbeet, spinach, spring onion, sweetcorn, sweetpotato, turnip, and zucchini. The project was collaboration between the NSW Department of Primary Industries and Applied Horticultural Research, which developed factsheets and articles highlighting key information extracted from the review. Overall, the review highlights that worldwide published research on pre-harvest factors that focus not only on yield, but also on the impact on product shelf-life and quality has been generally limited for most vegetables. In addition, quality and shelf-life was shown to be influenced by a large number of specific agronomic, genetic and environmental factors that seem to interact in a complex way. Leafy and Brassica vegetables were the groups with most research in the topic of the review. The key findings from these groups show that understanding pre-harvest interactions and developing crop schedules that can match the best combination of cultivar, growing area, plant growth rate, and time of the year, can have major benefits in terms of balancing yield and quality/shelf-life. That can only be achieved by targeted research for each key production area, which has been done in Australia to a degree for lettuce, spinach, and broccoli. However, there are considerable gaps for other vegetables.