New tech­nol­ogy means more from less

The Orchardist - - Technology - By Glenys Chris­tian

The com­pany, part of T&G Global, has 850ha of crops mainly in Hawke’s Bay and Nel­son. It em­ploys 1,500 peo­ple in this coun­try work­ing in pipfruit, ki­wifruit, grapes, as­para­gus and hot­house toma­toes. Of these, 250 are per­ma­nently em­ployed in the pipfruit side of the busi­ness with an­other 1,000 sea­sonal staff com­ing on board for har­vest­ing. It pro­duces 10 mil­lion tray car­ton equiv­a­lents (TCEs) an­nu­ally with 6.5 mil­lion from New Zealand.

Lach­lan, who has worked for 28 years in hor­ti­cul­ture with a back­ground in or­gan­ics as well as pipfruit, was with Apollo which joined Enza and Del­ica to form T and G Pipfruit. He said that back in the mid2000s the whole busi­ness had been strug­gling with neg­a­tive re­turns caus­ing stag­na­tion.

“Eighty-four per­cent of our crops were ex­ported to two mar­kets and there wasn’t a com­puter in sight,” he said.

Or­chard man­agers’ desks were cov­ered in paper and they protested that they just wanted to con­cen­trate on grow­ing fruit.

“But in 2011 they most re­luc­tantly got com­put­ers,” he said.

Com­ing from an agron­omy back­ground he re­alised the im­por­tance of data when it came to meet­ing in­creased mar­ket re­quire­ments, but he said that was not the case in a lot of the New Zealand hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try.

“Mov­ing into Asia we had to have trace­abil­ity,” Lach­lan ex­plained. That move has seen half the an­nual crop now ex­ported to Asia, with the re­main­ing half to Europe.

“And this year we will har­vest more crop from less area, av­er­ag­ing about 60 tonnes a hectare, which is good,” he said.

An app has been de­vel­oped for use in the field with which pick­ers can sam­ple fruit and make the com­pany aware of any crop faults early on. Last year the com­pany earned $34 a car­ton which it be­lieves is sus­tain­able.

“We are get­ting there,” he said.

How­ever there are ex­cit­ing new de­vel­op­ments com­ing to the fore such as a robotic picker that Lach­lan had re­cently seen in Mel­bourne, which is able to har­vest

400 kilo­grams of fruit in six min­utes.

“It’s here and it’s hap­pen­ing,” he said.

“We’re try­ing all sorts of stuff.”

Con­nec­tiv­ity has been and still

is an is­sue.

“We used to have work­ers walk­ing into or­chard rows and los­ing con­nec­tiv­ity,” he said.

“But we’ve got so­lu­tions in

the pipe­line.”

They can al­ready use trace­back sys­tems to lo­cate pick­ers and bins of fruit on the or­chard. This in­for­ma­tion can be en­tered off­line then up­loaded when a con­nec­tion is avail­able. But Hawke’s Bay still has some in­ter­net speeds which are quite slow

and need to be im­proved.

Lach­lan said that the pipfruit in­dus­try is well sup­ported by Pipfruit NZ and would need to fol­low the lead of com­peti­tor in­dus­tries over­seas such as in Wash­ing­ton State in the United States.

“We are pro­gress­ing, but it’s not a five minute thing.”

Lach­lan McKay – con­nec­tiv­ity still an is­sue.

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