CQ growers awarded for world's first robotic mango harvester
YEPPOON'S generational farming family, the Groves, have been awarded mango farmers of the year for their use of the world's first robotic mango harvester.
Sandi, Ian and son David of Groves Grown Tropical Fruit, Bungundarra, were named Piñata Farms' Honey Gold Grower of the Year at the 14th Honey Gold Congress in the Northern Territory earlier this month.
The Groves' partnered with CQUniversity's professor Kerry Walsh and his research team for years to trial the world first autonomous technology.
The auto-harvester, which picked fruit at Groves' farm last season, is about three years away from becoming a commercial reality.
The prototype's field trials achieved a 75 per cent efficiency in automatically identifying and picking fruit in view, mounted on a trailer towed by a ute.
The next phase of research will investigate options to mount the harvester on a terrestrial drone to operate autonomously, at faster speeds and higher accuracies.
"The machinery identifying and counting fruit in the orchard turned out to be within just a few per cent of the actual number of fruit in the entire block last year," Ian Groves said.
Professor Walsh said the auto-harvester had the potential to solve some of the major labour force issues that limit the industry.
"The harvester is part of an integrated system which will ensure farmers know exactly how many fruit are on their trees, when they will be in perfect condition for the consumer, and when to employ the right number of people for picking and packing," he said.
Other technological advancements in mango production were also developed and trialled, including a sensor to monitor flowering to predict maturity and enable growers to plan labour, and the eating quality.
"That technology is also able to measure the size range of that fruit and so knowing how much fruit is in that block, knowing when it's going to be mature and knowing the size of the fruit, means we can schedule our workforce, order the right number of cartons, the size of the inserts going into those cartons - this could be a real game changer, not only for our farm but for the entire industry," Mr Groves said.
He said his family was ecstatic to receive the award.
Piñata Farms and its growers produce Honey Gold mangoes in five states for national distribution between November and March.
Groves Grown Tropical Fruit is one of 30 third-party growers around Australia producing Honey Golds under licence for Piñata Farms, which owns the varietal rights.
Good weather last season meant 98.5 per cent of the Groves' fruit could be sent to chain stores as premium grade.
"To be selected as the best among Honey Gold growers, is a real feather in the cap," Mr Groves said.
"As we have other crops we can step in and out of, we were also able to delay harvesting for 10 days to give Piñata more production flexibility.
"Not a lot of growers can do that, due to the nature of their crops.
"The job that Piñata does with marketing Honey Golds, providing agronomic and grower support, training and maintaining high grower returns is superb.
"It gives growers confidence in the Honey Gold model."
Piñata Farms' key account manager Rebecca Scurr, said the Grower of the Year award considered a grower's packout rate, excellence in grower practices, communication and administrative efforts.
"Groves Grown Tropical Fruit also demonstrates willingness to innovate and commercial flexibility - key attributes crucial to growing a speciality line," she said.
Groves Grown Tropical Fruit produces five mango varieties, three avocado varieties, lychees and carambola over 100 hectares.