A new way of managing apple crops is being pioneered by Outfield, developers of an orchard management system, as part of the Precision Orchard Dosing System (PODS) project, funded by Innovate UK.
Jim McDougall, Director of Outfield, says that real-time decision-making is currently the most important challenge and agri-tech to support that is crucial:
“The changing climate is making it so hard for growers to forecast what they’re doing – in the UK we’ve had frost in April like we haven’t seen for 60 years, and last year when I was in Australia, half the country was either underwater or on fire – so having real-time data based on what’s happening right now in your orchard is becoming really critical.”
To support real-time decision-making for fruit growers, Outfield is part of a collaboration developing PODS, a system capable of varying spray volume between trees and even between different areas of a single tree. It combines Outfield’s orchard digitisation system with a tractor-mounted precision spray device, to give growers real-time monitoring coupled with precision intervention.
The system uses a self-flying drone, launched by the grower, to map the orchard in 20 minutes. This map then informs a sprayer unit of the correct dose of fruitlet thinning chemicals to put on each tree. The sprayer then controls the spray rate as it travels through the orchard to ensure that each tree has an optimal number of fruit per tree, increasing production and quality whilst reducing chemical use.
Jim McDougall explains: “In order to produce consistent, good quality fruit at harvest, growers need to monitor trees when they blossom, and balance the number of blossoms on each tree by applying fruitlet thinning agents.
“However, across the UK, every single apple tree will blossom in just a period of a few days or weeks. Growers not only need data quickly, but also need to be able to make that intervention at the right time, in real time, not tomorrow or next week.”
The blossom surveying service being used to support PODS is just one of a spectrum of year-round farm management tools that Outfield has developed, according to Jim.
“PODS is an example of how you can use precision mapping of the orchard to make precise interventions – fruitlet thinner is very potent, and it does have some environmental impacts, so if we can be precise about how it is deployed, that’ll help keep the trees on target whilst being better for the orchard environment – so everyone’s happy.”
Taken together, the Outfield tools are designed to give growers better use and more availability of time. The impact of time on agriculture is also the theme of REAP 2021.
PODS has recently completed field trials and will become commercially available next year.
The consortium combines: a tractor-pulled precision sprayer from N. P. Seymour, data interpretation from TASC, horticultural agronomy knowledge from HL Hutchinson, grower insights and testing from Plumford Farms, and data science from NIAB EMR.
The Outfield system is available internationally – see more information on Outfield’s member page.
REAP 2021: Changing Time(s) for Agriculture – 10th November 2021
Imagine a world where agriculture is not constrained by time. The ability to manage and manipulate time is increasing and REAP 2021 will explore the advances in technology and breakthroughs in science that is making this possible.
REAP brings together people from across the agri-tech ecosystem who believe that innovation is the engine for change. The conference bridges the gap between producer needs and technology solutions and showcases exciting agri-tech start-ups.