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In October Oli undertook a two week trip to South Africa to survey apple orchards during blossom, in support of Innovate UK project number 104610. Here’s how he got on.

From Cape Town International Airport it’s a 30 minute drive down the N2 highway to the wine town of Stellenbosch. It’s a very pleasant and compact little town of old Dutch style buildings and streets lined with oak trees, with Stellenbosch University campus right in the middle. As it has good connections to most of the rest of Western Cape, Stellenbosch would be my base for the next two weeks.

My contacts in South Africa who had helped me organise the trip were the fantastic guys at ProCrop. The first thing they told me when we met for dinner on my second evening was that I couldn’t have picked a worse year to survey apple blossoms in South Africa. Very early in the spring there had been a 4-5 day warm spell with temperatures as high as 30°C, and that had brought the trees out of their winter dormant period. The first week of October should be peak blossom time for varieties like Gala and Jazz, instead most orchards were already dropping petals and I would have to move fast if I wanted to survey anything that still had flowers on it.

I began my survey work in Ceres, an hour north of Stellenbosch. Ceres sits in a large bowl shaped valley that everyone told me was formed by a meteor impact. The Ceres valley is mostly used for stone fruit farming, but out of the valley to the north is the Koue Bokkeveld (or “cold goat field”) which is apple growing country. The farms up here are huge, 500 ha or more, with blocks of several hundred trees laid out grids stretching into the distance, broken up by small artificial lakes that hold water for the orchard irrigation systems.

On every farm we visited I received a warm and enthusiastic welcome. There was a huge interest in the drone and the data we were able to capture – and a huge interest in when the system would be ready to use! Quality control is a big issue for the farms in this region, which are often part of large commercial farming groups like Du Toit, De Keur or ZZ2. Production managers are interested in reliably tracking the performance of different orchards on a farm, but also of different farms within the larger group. With wide open skies, a large and growing top fruit industry and a need for data gathering at scale, South Africa is the perfect market for the systems that Outfield is developing.

Watch this space to find out how Oli got on with the rest of his trip!