Unmanned vehicles have been around for years that monitor fields and assist with farm or crop management. Still, it’s a growing area with lots of niches where the demand hasn’t been met. One example is the prediction of fruit crop yields. Recently, some terrestrial vehicles have been offered with the added software to monitor fruits in orchards but they are relatively slow and expensive still.
Especially in the business of Class 1 apples, predicting the yields is a valuable prospect. The current accepted rate is missing actual output by 15% either way. This error translates into unfulfilled contracts, or food waste. Ideally, an early prediction would allow for planning of surplus or lack of tonnage.
A UK start-up has developed a yield measurement and crop management platform for high value top fruit crops. The platform uses inexpensive drone systems to quickly survey orchard crops and estimate yields, weeks or months ahead of harvest. Growers can track yield estimates throughout the growing season, from blossom to fruit with crop data collated at the orchard level and the individual tree level (see the Picture). This data lets growers plan harvest campaigns, deploy farm resources efﬁciently and arrange contracts with conﬁdence. The system is being developed on 5 commercial apple farms in the UK, and tests on several farms in South Africa are scheduled for Q3 2019.
The company is seeking growers in Europe and overseas to customise the system further under technical cooperation, as well as offering an early version of the solution to apple growers under commercial agreements with technical assistance.