The recurring and intensifying droughts in Australia can make fruits potatoes more brittle and apples harder to dehydrate. Although it may sound counterintuitive, dry conditions can have a negative impact on the quality of fruits and vegetables, making it more difficult to dry them. This has huge implications for Australia’s economy and food security.
Dry foods make up a large portion of our diet. Australia exports approximately 70% of its produce annually, valued at close to A$49 trillion. Dry produce is an important component of this. For example, in 2018-19, the value of just sultanas currants, raisins, and currants was $25.1 million.
We risk losing these lucrative markets if dried foods lose their quality, availability, and taste. My ongoing research into advanced drying methods is aim at overcoming this problem by closely controlling how cells change in structure and shape.
Droughts Will Get Worse
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC), Australia is likely to become more dry as the world heats. This will lead more droughts and drier soils, more tree deaths, and more. Recent droughts in eastern Australia have shown that climate change can cause havoc on both plant production and society. For example, the climate change impacts caused agricultural profits to plummet by 23% in the period 2001-2020. This is approximately $29,200 per farmer compare to historical averages.
The COVID-19 Pandemic also demonstrated that panic buying can be trigger by uncertain economic, social, and environmental conditions. This highlights the importance of food safety and stability. As chips and dried fruits are staples of many Australian diets, it is important that we have enough dried food to meet future stockpiling needs. Dried fruit like apricots, dried apple, and sultanas made up 12% of the total fruit served in Australia during 2019-2020.
What Drought Does To Dried Foods Fruits
Depending on the type of produce and manufacturer, dried Australian produce can either be dry in Australia or abroad. The cellular structure of fruits and vegetables undergoes significant changes during drying. Tissues and cells can shrink or change in shape, while becoming more compact.
Uncontrolled drying can cause undesirable properties that could affect the food’s appearance and taste, as well as reducing its market value and nutritional content. This is why drought can make things more difficult. Although we know that drought can cause water shortages in rivers and lakes, research shows it also dry out small plant cells.
If there is an ongoing lack of water in cells, it can cause micro-properties and produce to change. This applies regardless of whether the plants were grown in large farms that span hectares of land or small pots in your yard. Fruits and vegetables can become fatigued by repeated droughts, even before they are harvested. The plant’s structure is affected by drought. It’s a little like when a wire is bent repeatedly and eventually breaks.
Droughts, for example, can cause plants such as apples to become more fragile and un processable. Droughts can also lead to smaller plants, and consequently lower harvests. The extreme drought conditions can cause severe moisture loss and damage to the plants. This means that dried foods like potato chips, sultanas, and dried apple could be affected if they continue to persist.
This Problem Can Solve With Supercomputing Fruits
We know that produce damaged by droughts is difficult to process, tastes different, and sometimes is even unusable. What can we do to stop it? It is obvious that recurring droughts and climate change can avoid. This would also help to avoid adverse effects on dried foods. Global emissions must first and foremost reduce quickly and urgently. What if it is impossible to avoid it? We will need a solid Plan B in this situation.
Australian engineers and researchers like myself have been asking the following question: Can we alter drying processes to match drought-affected produce’s changing properties? This could allow dried food processing industries to preserve the quality, taste and market value of their products.
It won’t be simple. We must first understand how water affects the shape and size of plant cells. This requires supercomputing and computer simulations. These simulations can use to predict if cells will be damage during drying. Simulations can help us determine the best drying conditions if we discover that there will be severe damage. We can optimize the temperature, humidity, and drying time to minimize adverse effects.
This can result in significant time and money savings, as well as increased quality and shelf-life of dried foods. Extended computer modelling and simulations can used to achieve industrial drying, which will increase food security and stability. Even though we may have to face more severe droughts in the future, it is possible that your potato chips will still taste great.