“I grew up on a farm,” says fruit physiologist Heleen Tayler. “My dad was a medical technologist, and farming was his hobby. We had a Jersey herd and made our own yogurt and butter. But I didn’t want to study animal science.”
Instead, Tayler enrolled in horticulture at Stellenbosch University. “I knew I’d made the right decision when I attended the very first lecture,” she recalls. “And when I attended Elke Crouch’s postharvest lectures, I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
She graduated with a BScAgric in 2006 and began working at ExperiCo Agri-Research Solutions the following year. She remembers being involved in the initial FEMA (Forelle Early Market Access) research at Applethwaite farm in Elgin.
Tayler credits Ian Crouch with the brilliant idea of letting pears hang for two weeks longer and then arresting further ripening with ethylene inhibitors. “But then the wind would blow all weekend,” she says. “We’d be scheduled to harvest on Monday, and I’d be wondering whether our fruit had all blown off! It’s been rewarding to watch FEMA commercialised from scratch and to see where it is today.”
She began working on internal browning in Cripps Pink in 2009. “I’ve assisted several students on various browning projects with their fieldwork. I think the research we’ve done has made a meaningful difference.”
For Tayler, making a difference by helping the industry solve problems is the best part of her job. “I can honestly say that I’m lucky and blessed to enjoy my work. You hear about people in other industries that don’t like their jobs, and they’re struggling and always frowning, but I love my job. I always have.”