Technology stops the rot in horticulture

New Zealand fruit farmers are spraying less and saving money thanks to software that helps them manage their spraying.

New Zealand fruit farmers are spraying less and saving money thanks to software that helps them manage their spraying.

One such program is Bacchus, launched last week at a wine industry conference in Nelson.

Meanwhile, government department Hortplus, formerly HortResearch, has similar products for apple and pear growers, with other growers set to benefit in future. HortPlus's software, called Metwatch, uses weather conditions and forecasts to assess the chance of disease and bug infestations.

The Windows 95-based program involves the farmer downloading weather reports from up to 50 weather stations across New Zealand, and accessing hourly Metservice updates via the Internet. The weather information is computed to predict the likelihood of disease, determining when the best time for crop spraying is.

HortPlus managing director Andrew Hodson says spray management software exists overseas, but the New Zealand system is better as it uses weather forecasts in its assessments. HortPlus also offers a SprayLog records system that works with MetWatch to record what is sprayed.

Last week, Marlborough Grape Growers Association chairman Ian Sutherland said the Bacchus program, for use against Botrytis, a grape rotting disease, will cut pesticide use and boost the country's green and clean image. Some farmers now spray just once, instead of up to six times, he says.

Research scientist Rengasamy Balasubramaniam says the Bacchus software presents a new approach to tackling diseases - looking at the environmental causes behind the disease, rather than simply spraying all the time. Bacchus uses sensors in the field to detect disease-conducive conditions.

Sixty-five Marlborough farmers receive faxes advising on weather conditions, rainfall, growing degree days, crop-growth stage and disease information. If a Botrytis infection period is recorded, the farmers also receive another fax saying so.

Hodson says Bacchus was developed as a separate module within Metwatch. Variations also help apple farmers fight blackspot, peach farmers fight brown rot and leaf rust and onion growers fight other diseases. Citrus and advocado products are due this summer.

Hodson says information on weather and disease has been around 50 years, but only now is it being used to create programs to fight pests. Free demonstrations can be downloaded from www.hortplus.com

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