De­vices smart and cost-ef­fec­tive

The Orchardist - - Profile - By Glenys Chris­tian

Barry Sul­li­van, the project leader of the Aus­tralian Na­tional Banana Bunchy Top Virus Pro­gramme, told the Mo­bileTech Con­fer­ence in Ro­torua in late March that he be­came in­volved when new in­cur­sions of the dis­ease hit the in­dus­try in north­ern New South Wales. The dis­ease nearly wiped out the Aus­tralian banana in­dus­try in 1924. In re­cent times the virus spread across a 360 kilo­me­tre area and 8,000 back­yard in­spec­tions needed to be car­ried out. In one in­stance 200 in­fes­ta­tions were found on just one farm.

“Ini­tially we were pho­to­copy­ing ba­sic maps and draw­ing on to them data we had gath­ered from driv­ing around,” he said. “Then we started us­ing hand-held GPS units.”

The GPS (global po­si­tion­ing sys­tem) units helped out a great deal in cap­tur­ing good in­for­ma­tion, re­duc­ing prob­lems which had been en­coun­tered where prop­erty de­tails were found not to be cor­rect.

“If we iden­ti­fied the virus on the wrong prop­erty it didn’t go down well with the owner,” he said.

There was also the is­sue of the amount of time data col­lec­tors had to spend back at the of­fice tran­scrib­ing de­tails col­lected on maps dur­ing their vis­its to banana-grow­ing prop­er­ties.

“They had to type the data into spread­sheets and no one ever saw it again,” he said.

“Then when some­one left, the re­sponse to the sit­u­a­tion by those who re­placed them was that the GPSs had been set up wrongly.”

Data cap­ture evolved with the switch to PDAs (per­sonal dig­i­tal as­sis­tants i.e. hand­held com­put­ers), and Barry Sul­li­van has built up the in­for­ma­tion col­lec­tions forms used with them for the last eight years. Their use is es­ti­mated to be worth A$1,500 for each worker in time sav­ings made in the of­fice through not hav­ing to en­ter the data col­lected into a cen­tral sys­tem. And fur­ther de­vel­op­ment has meant that smart de­vices could be used.

“The tech­nol­ogy is in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful, there are bet­ter qual­ity cam­eras and longer mem­ory,” he said.

Un­der a project jointly funded by the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment and the Aus­tralian Banana In­dus­try with funds from Hor­ti­cul­ture In­no­va­tion Aus­tralia, a banana-grow­ing area of north­ern New South Wales is be­ing in­spected for the dis­ease. A to­tal of 214 prop­er­ties on hilly land are be­ing in­spected by just six peo­ple.

“They have to look at ev­ery leaf be­cause bunchy top virus is spread by an aphid which we are try­ing to find ear­lier,” Barry said. “We need to know where the plant is and how many leaves on the plant are in­fected. And when plants are killed we need to record that as well as what chem­i­cal was used, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the landowner and the date and time.”

This data used to be pro­cessed at the end of the month, re­quir­ing ad­di­tional time and skills, with the loss of a lot of map­ping in­for­ma­tion time be­cause this was spent on crunch­ing data. The so­lu­tion was cloud-based data stor­age and man­age­ment sys­tems where photos are col­lected in forms and there is au­to­mated wire­less trans­fer of data. “There’s the abil­ity to work off­line then send to the cloud later,” he said.

The set-up and de­sign has been made more in­tu­itive and data can be se­cured and fil­tered out if and when re­quired.

“We can mon­i­tor staff now and see what in­for­ma­tion they’re col­lect­ing,” he said. “It’s the per­fect model to cap­ture data.”

And all this in­for­ma­tion can also eas­ily be pro­vided to banana grow­ers as part of ef­forts to train them to spot the hard-tosee signs of the virus.

In­di­vid­ual banana farms have been cat­e­gorised from ‘A’ to ‘E’ with ‘A’ prop­er­ties not in­fected, ‘B’ farms in­spected once a year and those with a ‘C’ cat­e­gori­sa­tion in­spected ev­ery month, Barry said. Drones are now be­ing in­ves­ti­gated as an eas­ier and more cost ef­fec­tive way of con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing ‘A’ prop­er­ties.

Har­vey Ryan, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Bris­bane soft­ware com­pany Kon­nect, which part­nered with the banana in­dus­try to de­velop the sys­tem, told the con­fer­ence it was an ideal end-to-end so­lu­tion for use in field op­er­a­tions, as staff could be fully in­formed.

“There are pre­ci­sion draw­ing tools and so­phis­ti­cated forms to col­lect and edit at­trib­ut­able data, which en­sures qual­ity and va­lid­ity,” he said. “You can dis­patch work and mon­i­tor field ac­tiv­i­ties in real time.”

This has meant sig­nif­i­cant ef­fi­cien­cies and cost sav­ings.

“And you have a fully in­formed work­force so they don’t do the wrong thing,” he said.

With an av­er­age of 20% to 25% sav­ings seen in op­er­a­tional bud­gets this more than cov­ers the sys­tem’s cost.

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