New technology means more from less
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
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.”