The first shipment of lettuce bound for Saudi Arabia left from Yunlin County in central-south Taiwan Wednesday (Feb. 5) following a ceremony to mark the sealing of the shipping containers prior to departure.
About 20 tonnes of Taiwanese lettuce are expected to hit store shelves in the Middle Eastern country thanks to a new cooling technique that allows the preservation of the vegetable for 28 days, Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) said during the ceremony in the county's Mailiao, a major lettuce production area.
Chen said the COA will also apply the new technique to other fruit and vegetable products.
Taiwan has exported some 10,000 tonnes of lettuce annually over the past several years, mostly to Japan, Chen said, noting that the COA has been exploring additional export destinations to diversify risk.
With the vacuum cooling technique, the shipping time for lettuce can be extended to 28 days, said Lin Hsueh-shih (林學詩), head of the COA's Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute.
By applying the method, the temperature of freshly harvested lettuce can be reduced from about 20 degrees Celsius to 7 degrees in four hours at the point of harvest, before being refrigerated to 3-4 degrees, Lin explained.
Mailiao's Fruit and Vegetable Cooperative Production Society has 200 contract farmers who cultivate lettuce on approximately 350 hectares, with annual production of 1,200 tonnes and an output value of NT$200 million (US$6.66 million), according to Kuo Chin-chan (郭進展), head of the society.
The vegetable could have a shelf life of one week after its arrival in Saudi Arabia and if the product receives a warm reception, local farmers will increase their exports to the country, according to the COA.