A budding app developer
It is information vital to the planning of each new kiwifruit season, but timely and accurate crop estimates can prove elusive.
This is a problem with which Matt Ryan, in his role as a DMS orchard manager, is very familiar and together with his wife Tayah and friend Andrew Dunstan, he has set out to find a solution.
Through the trio’s company called LogicLabs, they have developed an app which enables those counting buds, flowers or fruit in orchards to upload information in real time to ‘the Cloud’. From there it can be accessed immediately by post-harvest companies to help plan harvest and post-harvest operations.
“Traditionally counting records have been paper-based which meant the information was not immediately available, and had to be fed into the system,” says Matt, who was driven to find a better way by the frustration of not knowing exactly how much fruit individual orchards would produce.
There’s nothing wrong with the figures counters are recording, he says, but delays in accessing that information, and at times the interpretation of the figures by orchards owners or managers, can distort their value. “The data is seldom wrong but often an orchard owner or manager will not accept what the figures are saying because they think there has to be more or less fruit than the figures suggest.”
Matt says sending the raw data direct to post-harvest reduces the “human influence” and he believes will ultimately result in much more reliable estimates.
It was DMS which commissioned LogicLabs to develop the app and trial it on its orchards. Now the first version has been refined, the company is happy for LogicLabs to share the technology with other post-harvest companies, including EastPack, Apata, the Punchbowl Group, and the fruit testing company Eurofins.
Matt says it’s a reflection of the unified nature of the New Zealand kiwifruit industry that DMS has supported the sharing of the new technology, rather than keeping it for its own advantage.
“It’s of benefit for the whole industry to understand as accurately as possible what volumes of fruit are likely to be harvested,” says Matt.
DMS also formally acknowledged Matt’s achievements at the annual DMS Staff Awards in July where he received the coveted Harry Fredrickson Memorial Award. This is presented to a DMS staff member who has made the greatest contribution to the company during the course of the year and the award acknowledged Matt as and “Orchard Champion” in all respects.
Post-harvest companies rely on crop estimates to plan every aspect of their operations, from packaging materials to staffing and transport, and the figures are vital for Zespri too in the preparation of its marketing and shipping programmes.
Counting is a monotonous but vital job, with counters recording at this time of year the number of buds, then in spring, flower numbers, followed by fruit. Counting is carried out in designated square metre sections of orchard bays. With the LogicLab app, smartphones are used to upload the information to the Cloud as counting in each sample area is complete.
“We’ve kept the system simple and practical and so far the feedback from counters has been positive. The biggest issue we have faced is with cell phone coverage. In some parts of orchards, there is no signal at all – in others it’s very weak and can take a long time to upload the data. We are working on the parameters under which we want the app to work offline – and then automatically upload the information when there is network access again.” In summer, dense orchard canopies can also restrict cell phone signals.
Matt attributes the DMS Orchard Champions apprenticeship programme for helping him not just develop his app, but also for enabling him to become a more effective orchard manager.
“Being able to apply my technical knowledge to practical experiences really helped me become a better rounded orchard manager.”
Venturing into the realm of app design is actually outside of the skill sets of Tayah, who has an honours degree in science, majoring in agriculture, Matt, with an honours degree in AgriScience and Andrew who has a degree in finance and economics. They all studied at Massey University.
“We don’t have IT skills so have outsourced much of that side of the development work,” says Matt, whose younger brother Patrick, studying at Victoria University in Wellington, has now added his IT expertise to the team.
LogicLabs didn’t initially set out to develop a crop estimation app. Instead Tayah, Andrew and Matt had intended to produce an app to help growers plan spray programmes to control the vine disease Psa-V. It was with this idea that the trio were accepted into the Sprout Agritech Accelerator scheme which aims to advance promising agritech start-ups.
“When we pitched our concept to our mentor, and said that DMS was also willing to pay for the development of a crop estimation app, he said concentrate on that first, which was in fact very good advice,” says Matt.
Now LogicLabs wants to see how well the crop estimation app works for the post-harvest sector before offering it to orchard owners and managers.
Matt says he will keep creating apps as he sees the need. “I have the freedom to explore and am encouraged by DMS to tackle problems here, which is the ideal environment for continual innovation – and the only way to be an orchard champion.”
Counting buds can be monotonous but a new smartphone app Matt Ryan helped develop may make it a little easier and more accurate.