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Precision orcharding through variable rate spreading

Technology & Data

Can variable rate fertiliser application lead to improved outcomes in tree fruit orchards? 

APAL has successfully secured funding through the AgriFutures Australia Producer Technology Uptake Program to enable ongoing support for a field study. This study aims to evaluate the potential implementation of variable rate fertiliser spreading within the orchard, with a focus on addressing the underperforming trees within each of the trial blocks and validating the findings from the previous project.

To read more see: Potential to improve crop quality and yield supports case for variable rate spreader.

The Producer Technology Uptake Program is a national program, aimed at helping producers overcome barriers to technology adoption, including digital literacy, lack of understanding on the potential return on investment, and overall appetite for technology. 

Why is this important?

This project aims to demonstrate and provide two case studies of the introduction of variable rate fertiliser spreading in apple orchards and its impacts on fruit quality, soil chemical characteristics, and ultimately, its impact on orchard profitability and likely return on investment for adoption of the technology in grower’s businesses. 

Completion of this project will provide clear case studies demonstrating the use of the technology and its potential return on investment providing apple growers (as well as other narrow row perennial crop growers) with confidence to implement the technology within their business. 

How will it be done?

In the coming weeks, a Red Ant Auger Spreader – a dual hopper variable rate spreader that allows two products to be applied in one pass – will arrive in Shepparton. It will be put to work in two demonstration blocks, spreading fertiliser products variably to address different zones previously identified through grid-based soil tests and canopy scans (sourced from the Green Atlas Cartographer). 

A field walk demonstrating the technology will be held in Ardmona on 24 October 2023. 

Register here for the event

After these fertiliser passes are complete, additional scans using the Green Atlas Cartographer and grid-based soil tests will be completed over the growing season to evaluate if the variability within the block has been successfully reduced through variable rate application.  

How will this support on-farm decision-making?

The case studies generated by the project will give growers confidence in the requirements to adopt variable rate fertiliser applications in their orchards as well as the likely return on investment for its adoption. 

For further information, please contact [email protected] 


This project is supported by funding from AgriFutures Australia.



Figure 1. Red Ant Auger Spreader. This spreader has two hoppers and is capable of spreading both products variably at different rates both on the left and right sides of the unit.


Figure 2. GreenAtlas scan data out of one of the trial Pink Lady blocks. Data presented here is fruit per tree


Figure 3. GreenAtlas scan data out of one of the trial Pink Lady blocks. Data presented here is canopy density. Variable rate spreading is planned to address weaker areas with lower canopy areas.

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