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Connecting with Hort

Connecting with Hort

Rob and I love working on the farm, enjoying the peace and spotting the occasional local wildlife like kangaroos, bush turkeys, and black cockatoos. But once in a while we need to step away and explore the broader horticulture world. Recently, we travelled to Melbourne to attend the Hort Connections 3-day conference. 

Melbourne weather treated us very well – no rain for once!  At the event, we caught up with fellow custard apple and lychee growers from NSW and Central Queensland, including local Sunshine Coast farmers Daniel and Angela Jackson from Mountain Produce, and Jade King and Joel Abbott from Green Valley Finger Limes.

Rob & Karen Martin, with local farmers Jade King & Joel Abbott, Daniel & Angela Jackson

One of trade show stands at the Hort Connections Conference

One of the highlights of the trade show pavilion was the Hort Innovation stand. This grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australia’s horticulture industry teamed up with Custard Apples Australia, Passionfruit Australia, and the Australian Lychee Growers Association to showcase these incredible fruits. And wow, they did not disappoint! Scoops of creamy custard apple ice cream were served in passionfruit shells, topped with passionfruit syrup and lychee jelly. Delicious!

But that's not all. Thanh Truong, known as the 'Fruit Nerd,' made a social media video at the conference to teach customers how to choose and enjoy custard apples. Thanh blends his passion for fruit and vegetables to get people excited about fresh produce. In case you didn't know, Thanh has competed in several cooking shows, including being the 'Winning Vietnamese Cook' on SBS's 2017 show, The Chef’s Line, and a Team Vietnam finalist on the 2020 show, Plate of Origin.

What would a conference be without learning about the latest technology? One grower we spoke to was thrilled about the potential of using smart glasses on the farm. They're already being used for crop monitoring, which is promising.

So, let’s consider how this technology could benefit our farm. In the first few weeks of harvest, workers are still learning and often pick green, unripe fruit by mistake. While this isn't much of a problem for lychees and dragon fruit because when their skin changes from green to red, it's a clear sign they’re ready to be picked. But what if fruit is green in colour even when it's ready to harvest? This is typically the case with most varieties of custard apples grown in Australia. The fruit remains green throughout the entire growing cycle.

Thankfully, with our PinksBlush custard apple, the skin changes from green to a pinkish orange colour as it ripens. However, this colour change depends on how much sunlight the fruit gets while growing on the tree. If the fruit is growing in the centre of a tree with dense foliage, it might not get any sunlight, so the skin stays green.

Now, imagine if workers could wear smart glasses programmed to identify ripe and unripe fruit using a simple 'tick and cross' system. If the fruit gets a tick, it’s ready to be picked. If it gets a cross, the worker leaves it on the tree. This idea might not be so far-fetched after all. We’ll keep an eye on these smart developments.

Thanh Trong, also known as the 'Fruit Nerd' showcasing custard apples 

blog events farm updates hort connections 003Custard apple icecream - yum!

Another fascinating piece of technology we explored is the Burro, a fully autonomous robot platform equipped with computer vision, artificial intelligence, and high-precision GPS. Typically, when farmers pick their produce, they pack full tubs onto trailers towed by tractors or place them on farm buggies. Workers are needed to drive these vehicles up and down the rows and then back to the packing shed for unloading.

Now, imagine this: multiple Burro platforms in the field. As workers load produce onto the platforms and move further down the row, the Burros use their vision systems to see and follow them. Once the platforms reach their maximum carrying capacity, the Burros automatically return to the packing shed to get unloaded.

Until then, we’ll keep dreaming, because right now it’s business as usual on the farm.

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