The International Fruit Tree Association’s tour of Nova Scotia in July featured more than modern orchards: High-tech machinery shared the spotlight. Attendees saw several machines on display at tour stops, including an autonomous sprayer, bin trailers and precision crop load management technology.
At Crisp Growers orchards, visitors saw a demonstration of the AgBot autonomous sprayer, manufactured by Dutch companies AgXeed and Hol Spraying Systems. The AgBot is currently being utilized as a sprayer in orchards, but eventually it will autonomously perform other tasks such as mowing, flail chopping and mechanical weeding, said Sean Bartlett of Provide Agro, an Ontario equipment dealer and AgBot’s North American distributor.
Bartlett brought the equipment for the demonstration. He said there are three AgBots currently operating in Canadian orchards and a few in European orchards.
The AgBot is fully autonomous, powered by a 75-horsepower engine/electric drive and guided by GPS. The Agromanager GPS modules keep accurate spray records, down to the tree level. Sensors evaluate the canopy size and adjust nozzles accordingly. The AgBot, equipped with a safety camera and lidar, stops if it senses an obstacle or if the front bumper is depressed, Bartlett said.
ProduceTech, an equipment dealer based in Quebec, displayed a few machines at Van Meekeren Farms. The tour witnessed a demonstration of the GOtrack Auto Drive system, a bolt-on kit that turns a tractor into an autonomous machine.
ProduceTech’s owner, Frederic Lavoie, said the Auto Drive, designed by Polish company GOtrack, can perform multiple orchard tasks, including spraying and mowing.
Drive the tractor through the designated route once, and Auto Drive records everything. Next time, all you have to do is press play, and the tractor will follow the recorded route. Auto Drive also controls the brakes, power take-off and sprayer valves. Operators can modify route and speed.
ProduceTech also displayed the Darwin CF 105, a bin filler and orchard platform. As workers pick, they place apples on the machine’s conveyor belt, which deposits them into a bin. An accompanying three-tier bin trailer stores empty bins and deposits full bins on the ground. The conveyor can be removed as well, turning the CF 105 into a platform that can perform multiple orchard tasks. The platform can fit up to six workers or eight drones, thanks to a partnership with robotics company Tevel. Connected by wires, the drones pick apples with a suction cup and place them on the conveyor. The drone system is still in the precommercial phase, Lavoie said.
The IFTA tour also heard updates from Ontario company Vivid Machines, which manufactures vehicle-mounted digital camera systems for precision crop load management. Co-founder Jenny Lemieux said Vivid launched a new version of a fruit set dashboard, which takes data from the camera system and directly predicts fruit set. They’ve also started performing yield prediction shortly after thinning and are working closely with packing houses and marketers on the data.
The company plans to launch a new, more powerful version of its camera system, the Vivid XV3, in 2024, Lemieux said.
—by Matt Milkovich