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‘Fun part’ lies ahead as Orchard Census steps closer to insight delivery

Technology & Data

Early data insights are starting to flow from APAL’s Orchard Census, which is nearing firstphase completion.  

Key points 

  • Data collection 75 per cent complete. 
  • Early insights starting to flow. 
  • Will underpin national crop forecast. 
  • High-resolution orchard maps available. 

Attendees at APAL’s Technical Symposium in Shepparton in August were given a glimpse of the potential decision-making power of the Orchard Census when it is launched for use by contributors, expected to be early in 2024. 

Industry Data Manager Lauren Mann presented sample reports at the event drawn from the 75 per cent of data already collected, providing indicative variety ‘deep dives’ into regional breakdowns of tree count by variety, planted area by variety and age, and variety by tree count and age. 

Lauren said it was expected the remaining data collection under the massive project would be finalised in the coming months and the contributors given access to the data via an interactive industry portal on the APAL website in the new year. 

The Orchard Census dashboard, when launched, will provide interactive visualisations and a range of reports by variety and region.

“Then we have the fun part, which is the valuable insights,” Lauren said. “These insights can include variety mix plantings across Australia, age of trees by variety, tree count by variety, understanding the number of trees or hectares that have been pushed annually, and the correlation of data through the value chain which includes retail and major market data.” 

One of the most significant projects APAL has undertaken for industry, Lauren said it would help to future-proof the industry by providing timely and accurate data to inform the perennial decision of what variety to plant. It would also provide a springboard to understanding more complex information in future. 

“Growers will have the ability to make data-driven decisions for their orchards on what varieties to plant or push based on the consumption that we’ve seen through retailers, on what is currently planted throughout the country and what will be coming into bearing based on age across the industry.” 

A key role of the Orchard Census will be to supply a robust data set on the production capacity of apples and pears across Australia, underpin the annual crop forecast and, in conjunction with consumer data, planting decisions. 

“With the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) no longer supporting or completing annual commodity surveys, production of an annual forecast instead relies on information from government departments and industry bodies like ourselves,” Lauren said.  

“It will also serve as the cornerstone data set for industry, industry reports and a source of information for biosecurity and government advocacy. We can also supply current high-resolution maps to those orchards that don’t have one in existence.” 

The information then provides growers with the ability to make data-driven decisions for their orchards, anything from what varieties to plant or push based on consumption, to what is currently planted throughout the country, common planting styles by variety, and what will be coming into bearing based on age where your orchard sits based on averages across the industry.  

Current data, easy to maintain 

Building the data set to drive the delivery of timely and accurate insights is an enormous project which combines months and months of manual data collection, combined with cutting edge, Australian-developed mapping technology. 

Data collected from orchards is linked to aerial imagery on growing regions from Nearmap to convert it to geospatial data in a geographic information system (GIS). 

Once established, Lauren said the system would be relatively low maintenance and would only require new data where a change was flagged by annual imagery updates. 

“We won’t be collecting the same data twice,” Lauren said. “Going forward we would only need to check back with growers if something has changed from the previous year, such as in the event of a block removal, new plantings or to gather a sample set of tree yields.”


Reports will give an instant snapshot of the breakdown of
varieties in each region.

The bulk of the data has now been collected in Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia. Lauren said collection was now focusing on a small number of growers remaining to contribute in South Australia and a further push to collect the 30–40 per cent of data outstanding in Victoria. “I’d like to thank those growers who have contributed their data so far,” she said. 


There are four main stages in the Orchard Census project: data collection, conversion of
field data to geospatial data, post-collection verification, and analysis and visualisation.


Thanks to Nic Finger, FruitHelp, Stephen Tancred, Orchard Services, Greg Mouat, Mouat’s Farm Gate, and Susie Murphy White, Pomewest, for collecting data in their respective states. 

Orchard Census data is protected by policies and procedures set out by APAL for the protection of personal information. 

 Want to know more or contribute your data? Contact Lauren Mann on [email protected]. 

This article was first published in the Spring 2023 edition of AFG.

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