Technology – Expert Panel
Cody Lariviere, Washington Fruit, Washington
Cody has managed 560 acres of apples consisting of Honeycrisp, Cosmic Crisp, Fuji and EverCrisp. He has trialed automated irrigation and soil monitoring to determine optimal timing throughout the day to keep blocks at field capacity. He has also utilized dendrometers on tree trunks and apple fruit to better understand when and how much to irrigate. Having this technology has also allowed him to trial deficit irrigation during various times of the season.
Justin Finkler, Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., Michigan
Justin is the Operations Manager at Riveridge where they have tackled various technologies to aid in efficiencies. The apple orchard that Justin discussed was a V-trellis orchard planted in 2014. Justin mentioned 3 main tools that he used to further advance Riveridge.
- Outfield – Outfield is an orchard management company that utilizes drones to help farmers manage various growth stages of their crop. Justin stated that the data aided Riveridge in respect to bloom analysis and fruit counts.
- Bandit Cyclone, Automated Ag – The Bandit Cyclone is a vacuum machine (shown in Figure 1) that aids in efficiency of harvest.
- V-trellis system – Justin stated that many labour efficiencies have occurred from the V-trellis, most notably training and the implementation of piece-rate pay.
Bobby Brown, Orchard Dale Fruit Company, New York
Bobby, the owner of Orchard Dale Fruit Company noted many technologies that he has tested in the orchard, but the most notable have been the following.
- Weather stations and modelling system – Bobby has Davis weather stations and uses NEWA for modelling. He stressed the importance of utilizing NEWA modelling systems for chemical thinning.
- Agri-Trak – Agri-Trak is an application that allows farmers to optimize all facets of the farm operation, including labour tracking, time sheets and production records. Bobby has stated that this middle management tool improved accounts of daily activities and payroll.
- Variable rate nutrition – Bobby utilized a variable rate spreader in his orchard to better apply potassium and lime. This has led to some cost savings.
Gerbe Botden, Botden Orchards Ltd, Ontario
Gerbe is the Operations Manager of Botden Orchards Ltd which has 500 acres of apples. Gerbe has trialed various technologies on-site, including:
- Irrometer Watermark Sensor – This is a soil moisture sensor where Gerbe adjusted irrigation levels throughout the season based on field capacity to slow or encourage growth. He also scheduled irrigation based on soil type, noting that sandier soils may require shorter intervals but more frequent irrigation timings, while clay soils may require longer intervals to fill the root zone. Gerbe noted that he uses fertigation, which also adds to the complexity of nutrient application on soil type.
- Vivid Machines – Vivid Machines has a camera system, termed Vivid-X Vision System, where the camera can be mounted to equipment to analyze fruit counts, fruit size and has potential to scout for pest management. Gerbe has stated that the benefits included accurate crop estimates, where knowing the volume and size of apples in advance assisted in bin needs. Gerbe was able to ground truth the technology by utilizing data from his family run grader, where Vivid was within 10% of the apple count.
Q1. What technology has had the biggest impact in labour and production efficiency on your farm?
All growers answered this question differently, demonstrating that each technological advancement effects growers in various ways and that not every technology is for every grower.
Gerbe answered this question first and stated that excel has been the best application for him on his operation. He has used it since 2013 for various data collections – including leaf sampling, soil sampling, growth curves, fruit counts and fruit sizing. He has been diligent about collecting data for every block every week to keep his data consistent and comparable. One keynote from Gerbe was that year after year a consistent method to assess is very important when comparing results. He also stated that it not strictly about cutting costs, it’s about reaching our target and managing resources to grow the best quality fruit. He would like to see a tool that collects and analyzes data from across the orchard rather than a small subset sample from each block.
Bobby stated that high biggest technology was in orchard design in respect to labour, sunlight, and airflow for each variety. Following a similar sentiment, Justin stated trees per acre was his biggest technology, but suggested this was regarding return per acre and decision-making tools as a manager.
Cody reiterated the importance of precision and automated irrigation, where normally he would spend 40 hours a week on irrigation. He also noted the benefits of knowing fruit quality and size in advance, along with the biggest impact being not over or under watering trees.
Q2. How do you ground truth your technologies?
Gerbe stated that he also packs apples, so he is able to track defects, sizes and counts. Gerbe could then trace back to the block and make adjustments. Gerbe had a few suggestions regarding any trials in orchard:
- Be sure to have a control
- Don’t compare different soil types
- Have a big enough dataset, a bigger dataset gives more accuracy
On that last note, Justin chimed in stating that it is also important to not get lost in the trials and make sure that any trials you do that they are worth your time.
Q3. What models do you utilize in your orchard?
All growers used different modelling systems which are RIMPro, sunburn protection model, NEWA and MaluSim.
Q4. What technology have you tried that doesn’t work for your operation?
All growers have had different experiences with technology, where fruit imaging didn’t work for Cody in a V-trellis system, Bobby stated that LiDAR spraying technology didn’t work for him, but this was over 10 years ago. Gerbe mentioned use of a 3-row recycling sprayer, granted this was a prototype and has since purchased a new 3-row sprayer. Gerbe also stated that the pneumatic leaf blower didn’t work for his operation given bruising, Justin stated that this happened with his neighbours as well. A point to consider is the nutrition aspect where leaves bring in nutrients in the fall before going dormant. Justin mentioned trialing various platforms, were some worked, and some didn’t, but has seen improvement in his orchard. He also reiterated Cody’s fruit imaging comments but stated that this technology has improved tremendously and is still in its infancy.
Q5. What labour intensive action would you like to make more efficient?
Gerbe and Justin both stated that harvest would be the most important due to the amount of labour currently needed at that time. Gerbe stated that a robotic picker that handles the fruit gently and keeps quality is of the utmost importance. Justin added that blossom and fruitlet thinning is something else that he would like to see be done more efficiently. Cody stated that automated irrigation, fruit counting, and automated tractors would aid in decreasing labour in the orchard, while Bobby stated that anything that requires feet on the ground should have a set pace as this would maximize efficiency.