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Aerial to earth: New technology improves macadamia orchards profits

Farming for tomorrow is becoming increasingly sophisticated, not least in the highly profitable and growing macadamia nut industry.

For a business like leading processor and exporter, Green Farms Nut Company (GFNC), where the pressure is on for not only increased volume, but also quality, making farmers aware of the latest technology is paramount.

An integral part of our role in delivering value to our growers is ensuring farmers remain sustainable into the future. One way of doing this is to be at the forefront of developments in agricultural technology, said Alex Whyte, general manager, GFNC.

Local company and front-runner in the industry Carbomax was founded by Martin Taljaard, former macadamia farmer and aviation enthusiast, two years ago. Carbomax marries drone technology with their one of a kind software (developed by affiliated Cape Town based company, Aerobotics) to deliver key insights and bespoke fertiliser programmes for farmers.

“I wanted to explore how using drones together with tailored software systems can deliver invaluable insights for farmers to better nurture their trees and orchards. Through building individualised fertiliser programmes and detailed irrigation planning our customers have radically improved their yields” said Taljaard, managing director, Carbomax.

“Our approach enables farmers to react in real-time as the season unfolds through early problem detection. You don’t need to be a big farmer to use our programme and see results: our customers understand their farms, soils, irrigation and trees much better than before”, continued Taljaard.

Using Google maps, the drone (which is fully autonomous) is programmed with a specified flight path. It will fly its mission taking thousands of pictures which are weaved together to form a highly sophisticated macro image of the farmer’s farm.

The Aerohawk has a 2m fixed wing span and flies between 120m and 130m above ground. It covers 180 hectares in an hour and takes a picture every 2.5 seconds from each of its two cameras (near infrared and high resolution), totalling around 1500 images per farm per mission.

Technology is changing rapidly: it’s expected that it will become more feasible (and affordable) for farmers to own their own drones and fly them on farm.

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Cloud based and created specifically for the agricultural sector the software is entirely unique in what it offers farmers worldwide.

It identifies, on an individual basis, whether trees are photosynthesising optimally. And offers insight into why they may not be should problem areas be identified, like over-irrigation for example. Other observations include land contours, gradients and dam volumes. Each tree is geo-mapped and tree spacing, heights and canopies are identified.

Customers receive a username and password to access the interface where historical data is stored for comparative purposes following each flight. It also has a management tool where farmers can manage farm managers and their outputs.

Using data gathered from the flight, soil and leaf samples, agronomists analyse and identify problem areas to create bespoke block fertiliser programmes. These bio-carbon based products can be formulated to include specific micro and macro elements.

At GFNC we have a team dedicated to horticultural and technical advice who are constantly on the look-out on behalf of our farmers to make sure they’re up to date with farming practices to achieve the best profits possible – concluded Whyte.

About Green Farms Nut Company:

Established in 1991 and South Africa’s leading privately owned macadamia nut processing organisation. GFNC was first in the country to achieve ISO 22000 accreditation and in 2015 awarded the FSSC food safety accreditation – their factories rated of the best in the world.

GFNC has a unique business model where farmers share in any market or exchange rate benefits and growers are not tied to supply agreements. Through their marketing company, Green & Gold Nuts, they sell the largest volume of macadamia nuts globally.

The business works in close collaboration with affiliated macadamia nut processors in key territories around the world, as well as research and product development teams from major food manufacturers to share innovation in staying at the forefront of food safety, industry and market developments. Website: http://www.gfnc.co.za/

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