Don’t collect orchard data for data’s sake

Written by Hugo Britt.

drone data collection stock

Remember the agricultural drone craze? Five years ago, there was a lot of excitement around the potential of drones to help farmers and growers monitor their operations from above. Drones were relatively inexpensive and frankly kind of fun – but after the initial excitement of piloting a buzzing drone wore off, many growers realised that unsophisticated drones weren’t doing much to solve their core pain points.

What has become increasingly clear is that data must be actionable. This means that any data collected must provide meaningful information that can be used by growers to support their decision-making. For many growers, the mapping data delivered by drones failed to answer the “so-what” questions: what do I do next? How do I operationalise this?

Meaningful data will be a recurring theme at the APAL Industry Forum, taking place on Monday 24th June 2019 at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. Experts including CSIRO Principal Scientist Stefan Hajkowicz, KPMG’s Head of AgriFood Tech Ben van Delden, Bosch Australia’s Agriculture Sector Specialist Jesse Reader and Green Atlas’s James Underwood will all expound on the importance of data – not only why we need it, but how to put it to meaningful use in a way that will ultimately improve the harvest yield, reduce costs, and address challenges.

Agricultural drones have proven particularly useful in broadacre farming, but when it comes to orchards their effectiveness is hampered by the basic geometry of a tree. For a sensor to collect data on what makes one tree different from the next, they need to be seen from the side – at ground level.

Green Atlas has provided a solution in the form of the “Cartographer”, a specialised sensor system mounted on a quad bike that uses sensor technology, machine vision and artificial intelligence. The Cartographer can count the fruit on 6000 trees in the time it takes a grower to manually count fruit on just one tree.

Underwood told APAL that growers are hungry for data because they know it will lead to greater productivity once they can get it – and respond to it. “I don’t need to start the conversation by convincing a grower that data is useful. They already know why they would benefit if only they could get better data. Instead, we talk about what data they want, why, and how we can provide it. Growers all have different ideas of what’s important.”

Digitising an orchard isn’t about doing the same thing across every tree. “The complex nature of orchards has meant that orchard ag-tech has lagged behind broadacre tech”, Underwood says. “Orchards are a harder environment to deploy in, with dozens of technical challenges that have had to be solved by the international community of researchers. What’s exciting is that enough of the key problems have now been solved so we can finally commercialise the solutions.”


Register now to learn more from James Underwood and other ag-tech experts at the
APAL Industry Forum on Monday 24 June, Melbourne Exhibition Centre.


By |April 30th, 2019|Industry Data, Technology and robotics|

About the Author:

APAL is an industry representative body and not-for-profit membership organisation that supports Australia’s commercial apple and pear growers.