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.

The Orchardist - - Con­tents - By Elaine Fisher

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.

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