Horticulture

Data collection

By Country News

New orchard technology is seeking to transform data collection and help improve orchard management.

Developed by start-up Green Atlas, Cartographer is a complex sensor and laser device which can be mounted on an ATV or quad bike and driven up and down orchard rows.

By gathering detailed information about the number of flowers or fruit on each individual tree, Green Atlas co-founder James Underwood said orchard efficiency and decision-making could be improved.

‘‘There are a lot of runs on the board in terms of this technology,’’ he said.

‘‘The key problem (in orchards) is how to manage variability and how well you manage it.

‘‘Using the data, you can address more and more variabilities right down to macro trends and differences between rows.’’

While the amount of data could be ‘‘overwhelming’’ according to Mr Underwood, he said the technology had a ‘‘superhuman’’ ability to interpret the data and extract meaningful conclusions.

Although traditional data collection has been done by orchardists for decades, he said Cartographer collected much more detailed information, including variability between individual trees and rows, and was much more effective than using paper and pen.

‘‘In the past orchardists might have treated every tree as if it was the same, but this provides the opportunity to control for the variability and differences between trees,’’ Mr Underwood said.

‘‘The system can be sent out during flower time to see how they’re distributed on the block. Is it hotter on the west side and are there few flowers on the east? It can all play into how you manage it in terms of a spray program.’’

Although the device is not yet autonomous, Mr Underwood said the machine worked quickly, meaning significant areas of ground could be covered.

With trials taking place in Shepparton, west Gippsland and Batlow in NSW, the primary focus for perfecting the technology has been apples.

While there is potential for other crops down the track, Mr Underwood said the start-up was focused on improving access to the technology and fine-tuning its capabilities.