In February, Jim left the Cambridge winter behind and joined an exclusive 11-day trip to Australia with the EEN’s Global Business Innovation Programme (GBIP). Here’s how he got on.
Unlike anywhere else I’ve heard of, Australia produces 97% of the apples they consume, with very little import or export. This stands in stark contrast to nearby New Zealand, who export 95% of their apple production. In either case though, it’s extremely important for the growers and the market to make accurate predictions and in-field interventions to optimize harvest yields. This can be especially difficult in the Australian growing environment, where there are quite a few variables at play.
The local fauna does not help farmers’ efforts to maximize harvest. Fruit bats are a real problem for the growers we met with. One solution is to place large, structural nets over the whole orchard. These nets need to reach all the way to the ground to keep these huge flying mammals out. They’re not effective against all wildlife though, as during an orchard visit we did see a kangaroo bound along one of the orchard rows and spring out into the wild, taking some of the produce with it. An incredibly Australian sight, but perhaps there’s more innovation needed to keep malicious marsupials off the fruit!
As the climate changes, Australia has been hit in some unpredictable and quite startling ways. Whilst I was introducing myself to growers, wildfires were blazing all along the east coast, wiping out entire orchards to the north east of New South Wales. As it takes 3-4 years for an orchard to be re-planted and return to a profitable state, so destruction in any form, let alone total annihilation, means many of these growers will struggle for years to come. We were told that a lot of Australian government programs were being created to help orchard owners affected by the fires, but that doesn’t quell the growing tally of farms and lives ruined by climate change around the world.
Even outside these extreme cases, growers everywhere struggle to make predictions and decisions based on their own historic data as environmental uncertainty rises. Even back in the temperate UK we are seeing very unfamiliar weather, with more flooding and wider temperature extremes. Never before has Outfield’s current, in-field prediction technology been more important.
Agri-tech in Australia has been especially wary of these natural disasters, as we saw when we visited a trial “smart farms.” It was a phenomenal example of how the Australian government is integrating farmers and innovators to find new solutions at a time when they are needed so urgently.
It was an absolute pleasure to be introduced to the Australian fruit sector, and Outfield’s system for productivity mapping and fruit management was very well received by all the growers we spoke with. A few new partnerships for projects we hope to share in the future, and a few new friends as well.