The MIGAL Galilee Research Institute (MIGAL), a regional mega-R&D center supported by Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology, announced that its researchers quadrupled the postharvest life of cucumbers — from two to nine weeks — using “smart” sequencing. The treatment protocol is suggested by its innovative AI-based algorithms.
The study, “Algorithmic-Guided Postharvest Protocols through Experimental Combinatorial Optimization,” was conducted over 18 months by MIGAL and MIGAL’s Postharvest Innovation Center under the leadership of Prof. Ofer Shir, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Tel-High College, and Dr. Dan Gamrasni is a postharvest research associate at Migal and Tel-Hi College.
“Even as farmers intensify their struggle to increase yields in the face of climate change and urbanization, it is shocking to learn that a full third of the produce grown today continues to be wasted,” commented Dr. Gamrasni. “The goal of our research is to help reduce waste throughout the global food supply chain while increasing the efficiency of existing agricultural processes and resources.”
Prof. Shir continued, “By starting this project, we envisioned a ‘smart’, algorithmic-guided combination and sequencing of existing produce treatments to increase their preservation effectiveness, significantly extending the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables after harvest. However, the results achieved better than we expected.” : Our protocols 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 postharvest cucumber treatment patterns, learning the fruit’s response to variations in certain activity times, ordering, and activation levels. At the end of the process, a single multi-step treatment protocol was selected to be tested in MIGAL’s fields and laboratories.
The product chosen for the experiment was cucumber, a delicate fruit with a high wastage rate due to its average post-harvest storage life of less than two weeks. Immediately after harvest, fresh cucumbers were transported to the laboratory, weighed, treated using the protocol prescribed by the AI system, and stored for four weeks in accordance with the AI protocol. At the end of this period, it is confirmed that the weight, color, crispness and other characteristics of the fruit have undergone minimal change and the cucumbers are again stored for five weeks. The final evaluation demonstrated a consistent market level of quality.
Prof. Shir continued, “These results confirm that ‘smart’ sequencing of multiple treatments can dramatically extend product shelf life compared to protocols in use today. We are not aware of any other project that has been able to extend product shelf life to such an extent – and are eager to share 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 in incremental steps. One area under consideration is the optimization of complex treatment protocols used for vertical farming, a new field where farmers can drastically increase production in a controlled environment. MIGAL researchers anticipate that these AI-based algorithms will enable the optimization of protocols in other combinatorial search spaces – for example, with variations in lighting, gases, temperature, fertilization methods, water temperatures and other resources – with the aim of reducing production costs. While increasing yields.
Achieving nutritional security
MIGAL’s Scientific Director and Research Group Leader Professor Dan Levanone commented, “Professor Shir and Dr. Gamras’ research is an important step forward in addressing one of the most pressing challenges of the modern world: nutrition security. As our population expands, the amount of arable land and water continues to shrink – and then More than a third of increased production is wasted. Miguel’s innovative use of AI will spark new protocols that increase production, lower costs and reduce waste. The impact is a significant development across agriculture.”
Hila Haddad Chmelnik, Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology, added, “This is a significant scientific achievement for the MIGAL Research Institute that will benefit populations around the world. An outstanding example of the value of the whole process. Our ministry’s R&D institutions, outside of our country’s urban centers will help develop latent scientific talent and resources. We are proud of the technological advances stemming from these powerful centers, expanding Israel’s leadership in the foodtech and agritech industries.”
This research project was supported by Israel’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology from its general grant to the MIGAL Research Institute and postdoctoral financing allocated to this subject. Recently, the researchers received an additional grant from the Israel Agriculture Office to expand and accelerate the research.
For more details:
Miguel Galilei Research Institute