MIGAL's AI quadruples the post-harvest life of cucumbers

MIGAL’s AI quadruples the post-harvest life of cucumbers

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The MIGAL Galilee Research Institute (MIGAL), a regional R&D mega-center supported by Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology, has announced that its researchers have more than quadrupled the post-harvest lifespan of cucumbers – by two at nine weeks – using a “smart” sequential system. treatment protocol offered by its innovative AI-based algorithms.

The study, “Algorithm-Guided Post-Harvest Protocols by Experimental Combinatorial Optimization”, was conducted over 18 months by MIGAL’s Post-Harvest Innovation Center under the guidance of Professor Ofer Shir, Associate Professor of Computer Science at MIGAL and Tel-Hai College, and Dr. Dan Gamrasni, post-harvest research associate at MIGAL and Tel-Hai College.

“It remains shocking to know that a good third of the produce grown today continues to go to waste, even as farmers step up their fight to increase yields in the face of climate change and urbanization,” commented Dr. gamrasni. “The goal of our research is to help reduce waste throughout the global food supply chain while improving the efficiency of existing agricultural processes and resources.”

Professor Shir continued: “In initiating this project, we hypothesized that ‘intelligent’ combination and sequencing, guided by algorithms, of treatments of existing products could multiply their preservative effect, significantly extending the life storage of fruits and vegetables after harvest. However, the results we got were much better than we expected: our protocols more than quadrupled the shelf life of cucumbers, keeping them fresh for a full nine weeks. »

The MIGAL team’s algorithms used an AI system to investigate the combinatorial search space of cucumber post-harvest processing patterns, learning the fruit’s response to variations in timings, ordering, and food levels. activation of certain operations. At the end of the process, a single multi-step treatment protocol was selected to be tested in MIGAL’s fields and laboratories.

Sensitive fruits
The product selected for the experiment was cucumber, a sensitive fruit with a high loss rate due to its average post-harvest shelf life of less than two weeks. Immediately after harvest, the fresh cucumbers were transported to the laboratory, weighed, processed according to the protocol proposed by the AI ​​system and stored for four weeks according to the AI ​​protocol. At the end of this period, it was determined that the weight, color, crispness and other qualities of the fruit had undergone minimal change, and the cucumbers were stored again for another five weeks. Final evaluation demonstrated a continued marketable level of quality.

Professor Shir continued: “These results have confirmed that ‘intelligent’ sequencing of multiple treatments can significantly extend the shelf life of products compared to the protocols used today. We are not aware of any other project that has been able to extend shelf life. conservation of post-harvest products to such an extent – and we look forward to sharing our knowledge.”

Encouraged by these results, MIGAL researchers have now begun to investigate the development of AI-based algorithms and multi-step protocols for other agricultural use cases, even at growth stages. One area being explored is the optimization of complex processing protocols used for vertical farming, a new area in which farmers grow their produce intensively in controlled environments. MIGAL researchers hypothesize that these AI-based algorithms will allow protocols to be optimized in other combinatorial research spaces – for example, with variations in lighting, gas, temperature, fertilization, water temperatures and other resources – with the aim of reducing production costs while increasing yields.

Achieving Nutrition Security
Professor Dan Levanon, Scientific Director and Head of the Research Group at MIGAL, said: “The research conducted by Professor Shir and Dr Gamrasni is an important step towards solving one of the most important challenges of the modern world. : nutritional security. increases, the amount of arable land and water continues to decline – and more than a third of the produce grown is wasted. MIGAL’s innovative use of AI will shed light on new protocols that will increase production, minimize costs and reduce waste. an extremely important development whose impact will be felt throughout agriculture.”

Hila Haddad Chmelnik, Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology, added: “This is an important scientific achievement for the MIGAL Research Institute that will benefit people around the world. . The whole process is an outstanding example of the value of our ministry’s R&D institutes, which help to develop latent scientific talents and resources outside the urban centers of our country. We are proud of the technological breakthroughs that continue to flow from these vibrant hubs, extending Israel’s leadership in the Foodtech and Agritech industries.

This research project was supported by the Israeli Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology from its general grant to the MIGAL Research Institute and postdoctoral funding allocated for this topic. Recently, the researchers received an additional grant from the Israel Bureau of Agriculture to expand and accelerate the research.

For more information:
MIGAL Galilee Research Institute
Yael Shavit

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