International agritech company, Aerobotics says it has proven that with the rising input costs for growers, precision agriculture is becoming more important to get the most out of every plant.
Aerobotics was founded in 2014 with the purpose of optimising yields for growers in the perennial crop industry. Australian General Manager Dr Yoav Yichie, says the company's approach is to collect drone data, create a digital model of every plant on the farm, and measure how the tree is performing compared to its potential.
"With the limitations and size of the farms, it is really challenging for growers to manage their orchards efficiently," he said. "Labour challenges and availability of water are the key drivers that we assist with. So, if you look at 400ha of a citrus farm, for example, to understand what blocks or what orchards require the most attention, in terms of nutritional deficiencies or irrigation issues, really helps growers focus their efforts while using labour and resources wisely. We also highlight potential risks and what the grower might want to focus on to improve yield and reduce liabilities on the farm. In terms of inputs, fertiliser prices have gone through the roof, so we can pinpoint the orchards that require more so that extra fertiliser is only allocated to the areas that need it the most. This can save a grower a lot of money and of course, is more sustainable."
Originally founded in Cape Town, South Africa, the company is operating in 18 countries, working with some of the biggest fruit businesses in the world, particularly citrus, almond and macadamia. Aerobotics has been working with a number of agribusinesses in Australia, including citrus, avocados, mangoes and apples, as well as macadamia, almonds and walnuts.
"We use a drone-mounted with multispectral and thermal cameras," says Dr Yichie. "The information we provide includes tree counts and inventory figures so that you know how many trees you have on your farm and how many are missing. This can really help growers with their replanting programs, as they can conveniently download a file and send it to the nursery to order new trees. We also provide a tree health map, which measures the greenness of the canopy and the ability of the trees to photosynthesise. This helps growers to understand which blocks are less uniform and where there are sub-optimal conditions to produce quality fruit. This is important information as it helps growers to focus their efforts and take action at exactly the right time and place. This is key to our offering: generating maps and agronomic reports for growers to remedy risks on the farm, and ultimately reduce variability, and a better quantity and quality of yield."
Photos above and below : Examples from the Aerobotics Irrigation Mapping platform
Dr Yichie explains that while there are remote sensing options, drones provide greater resolution than planes. Drones can fly lower and distinguish between a tree and a non-tree object with greater accuracy, which is critical to generate information from the imagery.
Moreover, he says drones offer more flexibility on when to fly, which allows Aerobotics to align with growers’ farming practices and plant phenology, and growers who have been using Aerobotics’ drone-powered technology have reported improvement in orchard uniformity and higher yields.
“We fly with a purpose. Growers who we have been working with for two to three seasons have achieved more efficiency in their farming operations in addition to boosting yields – not just in terms of volumes," Dr Yichie said. "If you look at a crop like citrus, you want to get high tonnage for your hectares, but you also want to get fruit of the right size and quality season after season. We have been receiving positive feedback on this from the ground. Our tools, like irrigation mapping, allows growers to make sure that their trees are being irrigated and fertigated efficiently, in order to hit their goals."