Research Impact

CQU Data Tool Eases “Mango Madness”

A CQUniversity-developed data tool is helping Australian mango growers determine a number of harvesting factors ahead of time: crop size, when to pick, and how many labourers to hire and cartons to purchase.

FruitMaps, developed by Professor Kerry Walsh and postdoctoral research fellow Zhenglin Wang, takes real-time data from multiple sources and displays them visually to provide a simple, free, online decision support tool adapted for use by farmers to assess fruit maturity and assist harvesting planning. The data collections that underpin the tool, which is in its pilot stage, are stored on QRIScloud, QCIF’s cloud computing service.

Mangoes are harvested within a short window each year in growing regions in Australia’s north, a time known to farmers as “mango madness” given the hectic schedule.

When do you call the harvest start? Too early and the fruit will not be an optimum eating quality. Too late and fruit will either drop off the tree and be damaged or not travel well.

FruitMaps was created to ease the pressure of “mango madness” as a decision support system to aid growers in planning their harvest more than a month in advance. The tool began life three years ago.

“We developed the basics of the system three growing seasons’ ago, we fleshed it out in the second season and we’re still expanding its capability in the third season, which is upon us now,” Prof. Walsh said.

FruitMaps’ pilot users are farm managers in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Senior agronomist Adam Kent of Simpsons Farms in Goodwood, Queensland, near Bundaberg, has recently started using FruitMaps in preparation for the farm’s next mango harvest.

The farm has about 22,000 mango trees. Forecasting harvest date and crop yield and thus determining when and how many fruit pickers to hire will be Mr Kent’s primary use for FruitMaps.

“If you get your harvest right, crop loss is very minimal. If you get it wrong, it can be quite high,” Mr Kent said. “Our harvest is after Christmas in January. Labour resources at Christmas time and New Year’s is incredibly hard to manage.

“I see the value in forecasting harvest date to ensure resources at peak time are available. And that’s just scratching the surface: Version two of FruitMaps is just up and running and we’ll get more out of it by putting more data in.”

Mr Kent has recently logged the flowering data of Simpsons Farms’ mango trees into FruitMaps and has already mapped the property’s orchard blocks into the app: “It’s very easy to use,” he said.

Read more on our QRIScloud website

This article was first published on the QRIScloud website in September 2018.

“Farming is technology, farming is exciting”

Update: 18 March 2019  
This is an update of the above case study.

CQU Professor Kerry Walsh and his FruitMaps team have worked with the Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries over the last summer on its high tree density trial site at the Walkamin Research Facility, near Mareeba.
The facility, about an hour’s drive inland from Cairns, along with its field site at Kairi, is both leading and innovating in a wide range of scientific research and development. The site incorporates diverse aspects of irrigated and high rainfall tropical farming systems as key drivers to improving much of the Queensland tropical horticulture and cropping environment. One long-term trial involves a large mango tree experiment comparing cultivars and canopy training systems, propping the potential for high yielding, high density orchard designs.
FruitMaps was used to record data across the high density trial site, including images and machine-vision fruit load estimates of all trees on the site. This will be repeated in future years, giving an accessible record of orchard progress.
The FruitMaps team has also started to help others transform the data tool to other uses. They are currently working with CarbonLink to help farmers map and calculate soil carbon change to improve their land’s soil quality and thus improve food production and quality.
The FruitMaps team is also beginning a project with the Australian Reef Fish Trading Company (ARFTC) on the quality control of coral trout exported to China.
Meanwhile, ABC’s Landline TV program, which deals with rural Australian issues, featured FruitMaps in its “Mango Dreaming” report on 9 February 2019.
Mango producer Martina Matzner, the largest grower in the Northern Territory with about 50,000 trees, and a key developer of the Calypso variety of mango, showed ABC reporter Kristy O’Brien how she uses FruitMaps and said the tool is “taking the risk out of picking immature fruit.” FruitMaps, alongside other technology, also helps determine quite precise yield predictions.
“Once you know what your yield is, and you know it early enough, it comes automatically — you know how many staff you need, you know when you’re going to harvest, you know how many trucks you need, you know how many cardboard boxes you need to order, how many trailers go in there, when the fruit will be at the market.”
“Farming is technology, farming is exciting,” said Ms Matzner.
As Ms O’Brien noted: “It’s cutting edge technology that has huge impacts. The mango industry has expensive inputs and relies on a lot of labour. Knowing exactly when fruit will reach perfect ripeness reduces extremely costly guesswork.”
According to Ms O’Brien, Australia’s mango industry grew by 71 per cent from 2013 to 2017. “The push is on to secure more international markets and continue to see Australian households eat more mangoes.”