New yield management tools for the citrus and apple industries have been achieving great productivity gains for Australian growers since their introduction, according to the international agritech data analytics company that launched the technology.
Aerobotics' app allows growers to capture yield information on the ground, helping to inform recommendations and important management decisions to achieve target yields. The company's Australian General Manager Dr. Yoav Yichie, says the new tool saves growers "huge amounts of time" in the orchard performing estimation and forecasting tasks - and it does not require any specialised or expensive equipment or hardware, only an iPhone.
"The teams on the ground have reported that they have spent about 75 per cent less time collecting ten times more yield data by taking pictures of the fruit which Aerobotics’ AI automatically counts and measures," he said. "With the limited time that we all have, we can ensure that the teams are used on the most urgent risks. We understand that yield estimation is a very time-consuming and labour-intensive task, and apple and citrus teams spent a lot of time in the orchard measuring fruit weekly. That’s why we developed the tool so that teams can spend less time collecting data and have more time to analyse and plan. Due to its simplicity, users can get a greater sample size to track the progression of fruit size distributions throughout the season.”
Aerobotics was founded in 2014 with the purpose of optimising yields for growers in the perennial crop industry. Originally founded in Cape Town, South Africa, the company is operating in 18 countries, working with some of the largest fruit businesses in the world. In Australia, Aerobotics has been working with many agribusinesses, primarily those in citrus, avocados, mangoes, and apples, as well as macadamias, almonds, and walnuts.
Photos: Fruit images are taken using the Aeroview InField app and sized by the Ai models. Report generated on the current average fruit size, distribution, and prediction for harvest.
As part of growing their tools for managing nutrition and irrigation, Aerobotics has collected perennial crop imagery from more than 400 thousand hectares with 200+ growers on the platform. Dr. Yichie says the platform is built to allow growers to measure, protect and manage their yields. It is scalable across large operations and growers are using it on a weekly or fortnightly basis to make decisions.
"Essentially we fly a drone with different sensors and we provide analytics at a farm, orchard, and individual tree level, which allows the grower to identify and quantify risks on the farm," he said. "Everything is covered with an agronomic recommendation, so growers can take action in the orchard. The key to the new set of yield management tools is to link what is happening in the orchard to yield. Not just to the crop load (tonnage), but also the quality and size of the fruit. Essentially, we send the growers to the most representative trees in the orchards, which we call 'Smart Sampling Locations'. The app guides the scouts to those geo-referenced locations and they simply open their phones and take photos of the fruit, which are then uploaded to the cloud. There is no need to touch the fruit, or use callipers, it is just taking photos. We use iPhones with three lenses which gives us enough information to reconstruct the 3D shape of the fruit to size it accurately. We normally get a maximum room for error inside 1.5millimetres."
Dr. Yichie added that by tracking and analysing the fruit size regularly throughout the season, our clients know whether they will hit the desired range or if the harvest will be bigger or smaller. This helps to pinpoint which blocks are underperforming and can focus efforts on making improvements.
"They could maybe do another round of fertiliser or anything else agronomically that could manipulate the crop to achieve the desired size so they get the highest return on investment, which is the key goal for anyone in agriculture," Dr. Yichie said. He says it also helps growers allocate which blocks can go to which markets based on size and plan the harvest ahead of time. Knowing where you will end up with your peak counts at harvest time is also beneficial to fruit marketing businesses to fix their export programs early on in the season.
“We launched the tool late in the apple season, but we have some of the biggest farms in Australia committed and lined up for this upcoming season,” Dr. Yichie said. “In citrus, we have a few users that utilised it for the late varieties for the previous season and they will be expanding their operations. We are also seeing a great uptake from stakeholders that want reporting on a regional or varietal level across multiple operations. It is an end-to-end solution, and we provide growers with training throughout the journey. We monitor the data closely so that we know we are giving the growers the information they need, when they need it.”