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E.T. Phones Home: Kiwifruit Vines Go Hi-Tech

As all good farmers do, Kiwifruit Supply Research Limited (KSRL) has been talking about the weather. A joint venture company of HortResearch and four kiwifruit supply companies, earlier this year they invested $80,000 to establish 17 weather stations between Kerikeri and Opotiki.

Traditional weather data tended to be collected in places like airports, rather than at the back of the orchard, and wasn’t always applicable to growers’ needs. Now in all the major microclimates where kiwifruit perform differently not only the weather but also the vines are being monitored. Growth and production data are emailed away to be studied in relation to what the weather is, very accurately, known to have been doing.

The weather stations themselves might be mistaken for birds’ nest boxes if they didn’t have modem aerials and solar panels. Project Manager Murray Judd explains that smart data loggers measure variables like temperature once every minute, and the information is downloaded daily to a central computer. Hourly averages are added to the developing database, as well as maximums and minimums, and it is anticipated that there will be a demand for the system to be upgraded so it can do extras like phoning through frost warnings.

The project is part of a continual search for improvement in understanding of what plants do. HortResearch’s model for predicting bud break on kiwifruit vines, for instance, delivers the information which lets growers anticipate things like crop yield and harvest dates, and weather information from the data loggers will be used to improve this and other models.

Unsurprisingly, growers of other crops have already expressed interest in the phone calls from the field, and as more capabilities are added to the package, and trial and errors demonstrates a need for, for instance, better aerials for the modems, this is moving onto the growers’ must-have list.

This is not a magic bullet, enabling people to carry on regardless through the hundred-year flood or snowfall. Nor does it yet promise results for all the kiwifruit varieties. But the application of scientific expertise to queries and problems, to produce incremental improvements one after the other, is what KSRL’s research is all about.

Ends

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