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New agri-tech project aims to help with thinning


While still in its very early stages, a new project aims to develop a system to measure tree canopy and flower density to help growers choose an optimal chemical thinning regime for apple flowers.

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 aims to develop a new system to measure tree canopy and flower density and deliver a variable and dilution spraying solution for apple flower thinning.

SwarmFarm Robotics, in partnership with Bosch, ADAMA, and the University of New South Wales, was 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. Growers are already positioning themselves to take advantage of these technologies.

Agri-techologies offer promising solutions for growers wanting to improve production of high quality fruit, improve efficiency, or better manage inputs. Whatever the technology, the potential benefit to the industry is huge.

The key challenge in digitalising Australia’s apple industry has been attracting large companies to invest 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 to 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 information and engage with Australian growers to support adoption of any project outputs.

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 Robotics has 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 Robotics’ sights to horticulture and specifically apples for further commercial opportunity.

The three-year 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 its agronomy network, and Bosch will supply the key technology necessary for the system.

While only in its early stages, fundamental to the deliverables of the project are strong industry engagement, integration with existing technology, and commercialisation.

crop load and thinning Hort Innovation Vigour

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