Sun. Feb 28th, 2021

Using Artificial Intelligence to grow avocados in South Africa

Here’s how an agriculture hardware-software solution is using Artificial Intelligence to grow avocados in South Africa.

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While Elon Musk is hoping to ultimately merge human and Artificial Intelligence (AI), it looks like AI is making strides in the agricultural sector.

For decades, the decision on how to irrigate avocados was done based on the farmer’s intuition, experience and at best on some scattered data. Traditional irrigation approaches limit growers to being reactive, not proactive in protecting their avocados. Today, technology is taking over this space to help farmers use smarter ways to irrigate and produce more avocados.

Growing avocados in South Africa

Now, SupPlant, a precision agriculture hardware-software solution is an Israeli technology that has expertise in sensing plant stress. They have converted this expertise into a system that uses agronomic algorithms, sensors, artificial intelligence, big data and cloud-based technology in order to achieve these goals. They have developed a data model using predictive algorithms based on analyzing 100M avocado data points.

The sensors, which measure the stress of the plant, are placed in five locations of the plant (deep soil, shallow soil, stem/trunk, leaf, avocado) and monitor plant and fruit growth patterns, The actual water content in the soil and plant health data. In addition to this data, SupPlant monitors real-time and forecasted climatic data and forecasted plant growth patterns

All this info is uploaded every 30 minutes to an algorithm in the cloud that provides farmers with precise irrigation recommendations based on the integration of all this data.

One of the greatest challenges: The weather

One of the greatest challenges for a South African farmer today is the weather. SupPlant uses ClimaCell, a weather intelligence platform in order to monitor the weather in a precise plot location. Attached are pictures and charts demonstrating what happens with avocados during a heatwave: The following pictures (1) show that it is visible that SupPlant’s climatic data forecasted a heatwave approaching. The second picture showcases the difference between an avocado plot that used SupPlant before the heatwave and one that didn’t use this technology. The plot that didn’t use SupPlant suffered from loss of avocados in the heatwave, as can be seen in the third picture.

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Photo: Supplied
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Photo: Supplied
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Photo: Supplied

In addition, SupPlant’s mobile app allows all partnering farmers to monitor plots and control their water budget from anywhere. With the app, each farmer is able to see the information of each plot, graphic displays of the past and future irrigation plans, hyper-local current and forecasted climatic data specific to each plot, agronomic insights, growth patterns of trunk and fruit, irrigation recommendations for today and a week ahead and more.

In the following picture it is shown that the app is alerting the farmer regarding increasing plant stress, recommending enhanced irrigation. Farmers that do not use technology will only be able to see the results on the avocado themselves after the stressor created vast damage to the plant. Once upon a time, in order to irrigate farmers needed to go to the field or set a water timer. Now they can know from afar when their avocados are thirsty.

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Photo: Supplied

Crime threatens South African avocados

It was recently reported that South African avocado producers in the north of the country expressed concern over the increased incidents of theft from farms that are causing a great number of losses. This comes after the South African avocado sector has seen rapid growth in recent years as the demand for avocados has exploded world-wide. Demand in South Africa has also increased rapidly as has, along with it, a growing informal business.

“People have realised that they can make money out of avocados and supply smaller traders who either sell along the country’s roads or supply others who may even pack fruit and supply wholesale markets,” writes Fred Meintjies for Fruitnet. “The problem is not restricted to avocados only, with the macadamia industry also claiming big losses.”

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