“If you can trace a cow, you can track anything,” Gavin Devaney, owner and managing director of Bartle Frere Bananas told ZDNet. It’s the reason why for the last two years he has been rolling out sensors and relying on data to improve the overall operation of his 250-acre North Queensland banana farm, including ensuring it meets management best practice.
On-site at Bartle Frere Bananas are weather monitoring stations and soil moisture sensors designed to help control irrigation levels on a section-by-section basis within each paddock, as well as solar-powered, inline nitrate sensors that regulate the use of fertilisation, monitor sediment, and reduce nitrate run-off.
Devaney explained that working with Hitachi Vantara to install these sensors has allowed him to gauge the size of the fruit and understand the potential impact that weather has on his crops.
“We’re going through a process of seeing the effects of seasons and how bananas grow because, yes, we know that different seasons affect the fill rate on bananas and production, but this is giving us the actual micro measurement,” he said.
The sensors have also helped to identify areas where Devaney was underwatering.
“Where I thought I was probably a high-water user, wasn’t; I was underwatering … and I can see it in the crop” he said. “I haven’t looked back since. I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing; it did change the way I had been watering and where I thought I could wait a little bit longer after the rain — and I could do whatever I had to do — but no, no, no I needed to be more in front of it and not behind it to be able to water right.”
A supply-chain tracking system has been another addition to the farm’s operations. Currently under trial, the farm has deployed radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, encoded with a unique identification number, to track and trace the fruit from farm to market.
RFID tags are attached to each banana bunch in the paddock, which according to Devaney, makes them easier to locate when they are ready for bagging.
“It works in favour for us to control traffic … because if only 20 bells come out that week … my bagger has to go out and find those 20 bunches in a 10-acre paddock, so instead of him driving up and down every row … we are able to turn around, give him the location of a bunch in that paddock,” he said.
Once the bunches are sorted at the farm’s shed, another Bluetooth barcode is affixed to the pallet to track the movement, temperature, and GPS location of the containers all the way to the shops. Being able to track and trace the fruit means better quality assurance, Devaney said.
“Look back to what happened to the strawberry industry, I never ever want to end up in that process where … due to something happening to a portion from our farm and I couldn’t locate where the problem had come from … [we] might have to get rid of millions of dollars of fruit,” he said.
The smart farm project was established between Bartle Frere Bananas and Hitachi Vantara, with funding support from the Australian government’s National Landcare Program, Hort Innovation, as well as Horticultural Research, the Australian Banana Grower’s Council, AusVeg, and more.