The almond industry is going to be revolutionized by driverless spraying machines. Olam International, in an Australian first, has spent more than $ 4.5 million on ten autonomous machines that roam in their almond orchards at Wemen in northwest Victoria, sprinkling fungicide on trees. This spraying program can be conducted via two people on laptops.
Till now, almond farmers used traditional tractors that are manually operated, towing aerofans for chemicals distribution. And now, 10 Global Unmanned Spray Systems (GUSS) will do the work.
Each GUSS costs $ 260,000 US, but the company expects spending about one million dollars to improve the connectivity on the farms in the Wemen area for the trial to take place, said Mr. Pierre van Rensburg.
Pierre van Rensburg, the general manager of Olam in orchard operation, says,
“On the operational efficiency side, we are looking at about a 20 percent uptick in the area covered by fewer machines versus the conventional methods. In terms of cost efficiency that is driven by labor, and as you can appreciate, there’s a lot less labor involved in operating these machines. The second would be repairs and maintenance costs, and the third would be fuel.”
Brett Pringle, Olam’s autonomous agricultural expert, explained that one person could monitor five control machines using a laptop.
Brett says that most of their work is to create spray pathways for autonomous vehicles, send them on their way, and continuously monitor them to ensure that everything works as required. The most important part of the whole process is coordinating the filling process with the chemical refill vehicle.
The machine operates on cellular connectivity by default, and the spraying machine has the capacity to work with radio as well.
Mr. Brett says,
“We have had to revert back to radio connectivity using the 400mhz band but in terms of how the software is put together, the machine, fortunately, has the capability of using both, so if one fails, it automatically reverts back to the other.”
Currently, Mr. Brett is involved in hiring staff for the autonomous agricultural trial. He has appointed several agricultural science graduates and tech-savvy candidates for various roles. He is recruiting tech-savvy candidates because the driverless spraying machines are leading-edge technology; therefore, it attracts tech-savvy people who can understand the system’s potential and the potential of autonomy broadly.
Olam intends to discover other sections of its almond production company for automation, but Mr. Pierre van Rensburg says that having stable cellular and data connectivity was essential.
It is a great technology that will not only help the business but the entire food and agricultural industry. The traditional way of spraying fungicides is a tedious process and requires a lot of physical work by the farmers. But now we have these Giant Batmobile like Robot sprayers that can ease out the same task. One needs to control the machine. It’s that simple!