It has been a busy start to 2023 here at Outfield and what better way to kick things off than a two week trip down to our winter getaway, Cape Town, South Africa. The Western Cape has become a crucial element to the success of Outfield today, with the commute only being a direct flight away from the UK and a way of training the system throughout the northern hemisphere winter months.
This time round, the team involved a mix of operations and customer success with Emil, Oli and myself flying from the UK to meet with Dylan, Mariah and Tom who are all based down in Cape Town, forming a strong 6 man team of green shirts and caps. The excitement soon kicked in as we sat on the runway at Heathrow in -3 degrees waiting for the de-icer fluid, knowing soon that trousers, jerseys and beanies were all about to become redundant for the next two weeks.
The South African fruit harvest was already in full swing before we had arrived, with early season weather causing the fruit to be ready for picking 14 days earlier than expected. This meant our window of opportunity was closing fast and we had to get the drone up and flying. The purpose of the trip was to come away with more valuable training data on apples, testing new drones and a deeper look into exploring the Outfield system on different fruit types, with South Africa having plenty on offer.
Our first week was apple dominant with a lot of counting, flying and all round data gathering. For a first time visitor to South Africa it was soon clear that the stories I had heard from growers and industry connections about the size of the trees down here were true! These things were massive! Which meant half of us pulled the short straw with the job of counting apples, and the other half making the drone do the work. Having now got my boots dirty apple counting, I can now confidently say that improving efficiency with robots is a win/win.
First week done, TICK. Which meant it was time to trade the work boots for a pair of “jandals” (flip-flops, thongs, slops or whatever you want to call them) for the weekend. Our Airbnb was conveniently located up on the hill overlooking Gordons Bay with great views over the water, a big deck and a “braai” (barbecue, grill). On Saturday we took the “bakkie” (ute, truck) in search of penguins and beaches around the coast to great success, the scenery was amazing with volcanic mountains towering above golden beaches! We were also fortunate enough to lay eyes on Emil’s favourite animal, the “dassie” (Rock Hyrax) as seen below. Sunday was a weekend highlight for me with the team being fortunate enough to get out for an early morning safari in search of the “Big 5” (lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard and rhino), although the leopard kept a low profile we still managed to lay eyes on 4/5.
Our second and final week was a little bit different to the usual Outfield obsession over apples, as our focus turned to making the system compatible with other fruit types. Vineyards have been a hot topic of late and so we were fortunate to be able to sit down with the viticulture teams of Cluver Wines and Stellenbosch University to explore further what struggles they have on the farm and where Outfield can make an impact. We also got the drone up scanning the vineyards, counting bunches and measuring foliage height. Following on from this we went out in search of stone fruit, in particular nectarines and plums. This meant we were fortunate to be given the opportunity to head up to Ceres where stone fruits are grown in the Western Cape… another scenic backdrop of vines, orchards and mountains. That said, it was a great second week, learning about different fruit types and seeing what the system can do in new territory… Watch this space!
Thanks to everyone we worked with down in South Africa with a special thanks to Karin, Andries and Christiaan at Cluver Farms for being our home away from home year after year. We look forward to seeing the results come in over the next few months as harvest continues!
I look forward to continuing our strong partnerships down in South Africa throughout this year and rolling out our newly tested features across both hemispheres.
If you would like to know more about what we are doing this year at Outfield and how we can help you, then please get in touch.