A grant worth more than $5 million has been awarded to Hort Innovation to continue work in optimising the management of Australian tree crop industries through innovative mapping and monitoring tools.

Awarded under Round 4 of the Federal Government’s Rural R&D for Profit Program, the grant will fund Phase 2 of the project involving commercial banana, mango, macadamia, olive and citrus orchards.

The grant will focus on achieving improved yield forecasting accuracy (pre-harvest), developing tools to improve orchard monitoring and mapping of tree health, fruit quality and maturity, and develop and deliver better detection and strategies to control future biosecurity threats.

Phase 1 of the project delivered a national map of all commercial avocado, macadamia and mango orchards across Australia, providing the industry with an accurate understanding of the extent and distribution of production, as well as supporting improved biosecurity and post-disaster response.

Phase 1 also identified a range of emerging technologies that supported more accurate yield and fruit quality forecasting and mapping as well as the improved monitoring of abiotic and biotic stresses at the individual tree and orchard level.

Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie said Phase 2 would build on this work, addressing outcomes aligned to all four of the Federal Government’s Rural R&D for profit program priorities – advanced technology, biosecurity, soil, water and managing natural resources and adoption of R&D.

“Australian agriculture must innovate and develop smarter farming practices if it is to grow to a $100 billion industry by 2030,” she said.

“There is a strong link between R&D and agricultural productivity growth—the returns are consistently proven to be far greater than the investment.

“Ultimately, we want to see research reach the hands of farmers and funding the second phase of this project brings this innovation one step closer to use in our horticultural industries.”

Hort Innovation General Manager of Extension and Adoption Dr Anthony Kachenko said this project not only focussed on the commercialisation of outcomes produced in Phase 1 but also saw the introduction of the olive and citrus industries.

He said a number of commercially available remote sensing platforms including satellite, aerial and ground based sensing technologies, LiDAR – multispectral/ hyperspectral and thermal sensing technology and associated analytics including machine learning and web and phone APP development would be assessed with the intent to commercialise under the project.

“These tools will assist growers in better determining high, medium and low productivity areas within their orchards. This information supports targeted agronomy and the more judicious application of orchard inputs such as fertiliser, pesticides and improved irrigation management,” he said.

“Additionally, accurate pre-harvest forecasts of yield, crop maturity and quality enable growers to make more informed decisions around harvesting logistics (labour, transport etc) as well as forward selling estimates.

“This technology benefits plant biosecurity by identifying the location and distribution of all commercial orchards. In the event of an incursion, this mapping layer supports the rapid deployment of surveillance staff and the establishment of exclusion zones to prevent further spread. Additionally,  the ability of these technologies to better detect high-risk plant diseases such as Panama in Banana will also be assessed.

“In terms of extension and adoption, over 210 activities were rolled out during Phase 1 which included industry communications, field days, workshops, media coverage, and field sampling campaigns with industry participants. The established team is well placed to continue this level of industry engagement and R&D adoption during Phase 2.”