Saturday, December 2, 2023

NZ hort tech could be pick of the crop

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Smart apps and tree maps showcased at Otago open day.
About 70 growers, mostly from Central Otago, attended an open day to showcase horticultural technology.
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New Zealand has an opportunity to be a world leader in horticulture technology, says Sebastian Chapman, chief executive and co-founder of FruitMinder.

The company, based in Central Otago, is developing a smart app that will map data from individual fruit trees and enable orchardists to provide specialist care for each plant. 

Late last year the company was given  $44,680 by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund to help with FruitMinder’s development. 

A GPS tag will hold information about the variety of tree and anything that has happened to that tree over its lifetime, such as growing conditions, treatments, sprays and fertilisers. It could also eventually measure a tree’s genetics “so  that over time growers can really increase the assets that are their trees”.

Chapman recently organised an open day at Forest Lodge Orchard, near Cromwell, to highlight the horticultural technology being developed in New Zealand.

“The aim of the day was to showcase some emerging technology that we are looking to integrate into our system at FruitMinder,” he said.

“We’re working with the researchers to look at what is happening at the universities, and bring it out to the real world.”

About 70 growers, mostly from Central Otago, were on hand for the open day, which featured the University of Otago’s School of Surveying, University of Canterbury computer vision researchers (UC-Vision), Monarch Tractor, Burro Collaborative Robotic Platform, FruitMinder and DataPhyll harvest management software.

“It was a good symphony of all the different technology pieces and how New Zealand  has an opportunity to be a world leader here,” Chapman said.

UC-vision is involved in some exciting work that will enable it to generate a full 3D model of individual trees, he said. 

“If you just take a 2D photo you miss  a lot of the measurements. This opens up the door for giving more accurate measurements of individual trees. It will effectively create a digital twin of that tree. 

“We’re looking at how we can link that information back into FruitMinder and cross-reference it so you can just go to that tree and pick up everything that has happened to it.”

The School of Surveying is working on developing applications in the agricultural sector that could remove the need for expensive, purpose-built surveying equipment. 

Chapman said FruitMinder is looking at becoming a commercialisation partner with the school where  “they focus on detailed stuff and we can build it into software and can be used in a software stack”.

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