A new levy-funded project will look at using agricultural robots to measure tree canopy and flower density and deliver a more precise, variable spraying solution for apple flower thinning.
Led by Queensland-based SwarmFarm Robotics, the Developing Agri-Tech solutions for the Australian apple industry project is tasked with developing a new system to measure tree canopy and flower density and deliver a variable and dilution spraying solution for apple flower thinning.
SwarmFarm, in partnership with Bosch, ADAMA, and the University of New South Wales, were announced at Hort Connections 2018 by Hort Innovation as the successful consortium selected to deliver the three-year project. It is a strategic investment under the Apple and Pear Fund and is funded by Hort Innovation using the apple and pear levy and funds from the Australian Government.
With the rapid evolution of agri-technology worldwide, the apple and pear industry is looking at future production systems based far more on automation, precision, and data-based decision support tools. In light of this apple growers are already positioning themselves to take advantage of technologies in the future.
Agri-techologies offer promising solutions for growers either looking to improve production of high quality fruit, improve efficiency, or better manage inputs. Whatever the technology, the potential benefit to the apple and pear industry is immense.
The key challenge in digitalising Australia’s apple industry has been attracting large companies to invest the necessary R&D funding to develop and commercialise a product that growers can use.
Growers see many “start-up” companies come through, but a limitation to date has been the narrow-ranging, often cost-prohibitive solutions which are not tailored well to commercial apple and pear production.
The current project is a response the 2017 worldwide review of agri-technology, commissioned by Hort Innovation and led by TechMac, which identified opportunities for the Australian apple and pear industry, including recommendations for future R&D investment.
Proposals for the current project were to focus on the delivery of an autonomous flower density monitoring system, farm decision-support system, and variable rate spray system. This project was to engage commercial partners and disseminate and engage with Australian growers ensuring that outputs from the project are adopted.
SwarmFarm Robotics is an Agri-tech company, based at Gindie, Queensland, an area known predominantly for cattle and cropping enterprise and an industry full of big machinery. Rather than big machinery, SwarmFarm have instead opted for smaller, lighter, more accurate machinery which operate in ‘swarms’. They now have commercial-ready systems, and this new project will help broaden SwarmFarm’s sights to horticulture and specifically apples for further commercial opportunity.
The new project will develop a new system to measure tree canopy and flower density and deliver a variable and dilution spraying solution for apple flower thinning. The University of New South Wales will develop the algorithms to count the flower density, ADAMA will supply the decision support tool to it’s agronomy network, and Bosch will supply the key technology necessary for the system.
This three-year project is at very early stages but will have strong industry engagement, integration of existing technology, and commercialisation as fundamental to the deliverables.
Watch this space!
SwarmFarm: Exciting times in agriculture for robotic company (Weekly Times, 17 Aug, 2017, subscription may be required for access)