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Homegrown tech helps Bay of Plenty kiwifruit orchardist stay ahead of mother nature

Harvest Weather Station on Kiwifruit Orchard in Bay of Plenty

A Kiwi-made technology platform is giving a Bay of Plenty orchard manager the edge when it comes to weather forecasting and managing pests and diseases on his property.

Nikesh Gurung and his Baygold team manage the 74-hectare Southland Orchard near Paengaroa, producing the SunGold variety of kiwifruit.

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 Kiwifruit Vine Health (KVH) Weather and Disease Portal, available to all kiwifruit growers.

“There are multiple data types available [on Metwatch], 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 [copper and antibiotics] 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, require 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 the system.

Baygold grower Nikesh Gurang with kiwifruit Vines

“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.”

MetWatch was first made available to the kiwifruit industry in 2016. The MetWatch platform has been deployed to a wide range of sectors, ranging from kiwifruit and onions, to apples and arable crops, with different tools and crop-specific pest and disease models for each. MetWatch is not only used by growers, but also by researchers and agronomists for more advanced modelling and data insight.

The MetWatch platform is provided to all kiwifruit growers via the KVH Weather and Disease Portal. Growers in other industries may access MetWatch either through a corporate account, or via online portals made available by their industry association, enabling industry-specific tools and models.