Barry Soper: The horticultural revolution

By Barry Soper

Pruners on a vineyard on Kirokipo Rd, SH50, Napier, in light wind, warm sun, cool winter's day. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today
Pruners on a vineyard on Kirokipo Rd, SH50, Napier, in light wind, warm sun, cool winter's day. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today

A year ago a door was opened to a whole new world for me. I was asked to MC the New Zealand Pipfruit Conference and my understanding of this sector was rather limited, to say the least.

You never give much too thought to the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket, other than looking aghast at the green is the new gold avocados.

Putting food into our mouths one of the most intimate things that we do, as one of those deep thinkers expressed at the New Zealand Horticulture Conference in Nelson.

It's what goes on down on the orchard and out on the farm that's impressive about this five billion dollar export industry. As MC again it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the intellectual grunt that drives the industry which is on the cusp of a technological revolution.

Last year they talked about making the industry more sexy, about how to attract more young people to it. This year it was all about sex, through the systems many of them will have adopted by this time next year.

There was a section on drones, those unmanned flying computers. There was talk about a farmer flicking a switch in his office before putting his coffee on in the morning, sending off the drone to tell him what's happening around the farm.

Drones flying down rows of produce, identifying trouble areas that needed tending to, or a flying machine being sent off with the pest control payload to spray the plants. Or even a drone to do the planting with high pressure canisters loaded on to the machine, firing the seeds into the ground.

There was also talk about robotics which are already in fairly wide use but others, like robotic honey bees, yes little metal bees looking like the real thing, and doing the same job.

And there was the discussion about vertical, indoor farms, being built over several stories and using artificial light to do the job of daylight and the sun.

If you think that's farfetched, think again. One is currently being built in China to supply the Singaporean market.

And don't even begin to think about smart phones and their application to the industry. It would seem there's an app for everything, from safety to plant spraying.

We were told the supermarkets we have today will be unrecognisable in 25 years time. The session on innovation would tend to bear that out with Food in a Bag already preparing meals for you. In just three years it's become a hundred million dollar business.

We're told this country should be leading the world in selling the health benefits of the food being produced by our horticulture industry.

It just seems the drones in the Beehive have to get up to speed with what's happening out there and liberalise some restrictive aspects of the law - and fast!

- NZ Herald

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