Tech helping growers stay ahead of mother nature
KVH’s free online Weather & Disease Portal uses a technology platform that gives growers the edge when it comes to weather forecasting and managing pests and diseases.
Orchard Manager Nikesh Gurung and his Baygold team manage the 74-hectare Southland Orchard near Paengaroa, producing SunGold.
He says they have improved their orchard practices, leading to better crop yield and plant health, with the help of MetWatch – an online tool that uses scientific-grade weather stations and pest and disease models to provide insight for decision support.
Nikesh uses the tool “at least once a week” on his laptop or smartphone by logging onto the KVH Weather & Disease portal, available to all kiwifruit growers.
“There are multiple data types available, including winter chill units, and all of it is crucial information for giving you an indication of what next season’s challenges will be and for planning around the use of coppers and antibiotics for management of diseases like Psa,” he says.
“As the temperature rises and we approach summer we usually decrease the frequency or amount of [Psa protectant] applications, but if the Psa model in MetWatch says there is an increased risk of the disease due to a weather event it definitely helps to justify an extra application.”
The Southland Orchard Nikesh manages for Baygold is situated 15 km inland from the Western Bay of Plenty coastline on soil rich in pumice-ash. The kiwifruit grown, as in many other places, requires high volumes of water to ensure top market quality fruit.
Having accurate weather data is critical, so Nikesh worked with Hortplus – the company behind MetWatch – to connect an on-site weather station to MetWatch.
“I was really excited to be able to use our on-site weather station and link that into the MetWatch portal to give me really precise and location-specific data,” he says.
“It’s definitely adding value. The other day it rained for a long time but it was quite light. The weather station showed we’d only had 0.9 mm on our orchard, but we’d all thought it was a lot more. The plants need 5 or 6 mm to be really productive on our land so we decided to irrigate – we might not have done that if we didn’t have access to the data.
The data in MetWatch is easy to interpret, regardless of technical ability, and regular email reports can be set up to make sure key information is sent directly to a user’s inbox.
“Everyone in our management team uses it. It helps us all stay aligned in our thinking and just having the technology gives us a fair idea of what to expect.”
Baygold also harnesses the data in MetWatch to help demonstrate sustainability outcomes to local government and to support any Justified Approval (JA) requests it makes to Zespri for the use of any non-standard products on their orchards, including for field trials.
Nikesh says technology like MetWatch is the latest in a long line of technology innovations that have been driving the New Zealand industry forward since the 1990s.
“We’ve made huge progress as an industry in terms of how kiwifruit is grown and how it’s developed, and we’ve seen a whole lot of new varieties.
“Having the right tools helps us to work smarter and make good decisions.”