RMIT University has partnered with Agriculture Victoria, the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Summerfruit Australia and local technology firms Green Atlas and Rubens Technologies to trial new sensor technology that reveals how ripe and sweet the fruit is without even taking a bite.
Led by Agriculture Victoria, the $1.1 million Sensors for Summerfruit project is developing and testing three types of sensor technologies that will measure the sweetness of summer fruits from peaches to nectarines, plums or apricots, as well as monitoring their ripeness, size and signs of disease or pests.
Food Agility CRC Chief Scientist, Professor David Lamb, said 2.5 year project aims to help growers get the right piece of fruit to the right consumer at the right time.
“From orchard to export, data-driven decisions are key. Two of the sensors, RMIT’s Bistatic LiDAR and Green Atlas’ Cartographer, will operate in the orchard helping to assess health status and predict fruit size, yield and maturity,” Mr Lamb said.
“A third sensor, Rubens™ Fluorescent Spectrometer, will be put to work in the packing sheds to detect sweetness, firmness and robustness for transport. It’s the closest thing to tasting the fruit, without actually taking a bite.”
Research Leader Crop Physiology at Agriculture Victoria, Dr Ian Goodwin, said the sensors will be calibrated on Agriculture Victoria’s Tatura SmartFarm in Goulburn Valley, and then road-tested in commercial orchards and packhouses in Goulburn Valley, Swan Hill, Cobram, and Sunraysia.
“Fruit is downgraded or redirected at the harvesting and packing stages because it doesn’t meet consumer preferences for that market or, if fruit is harvested too early or too late, the quality can deteriorate in transit,” Mr Goodwin said.
“Using these sensors, we could help growers tailor their practices to grow the fruit consumers want, triaging fruit in the packing sheds, and only exporting those robust enough to make the journey.”
Summerfruit Australia Ltd CEO Trevor Ranford said the project would initially target the Chinese market but would also be relevant to ‘any export market for Australian stone fruit’.
“We have spent years improving our understanding of consumer preferences,” Mr Ranford said.
“For example, when it comes to nectarines, our Chinese consumers prefer yellow nectarines that are sweet and low in acid, with a redder skin colour.”
According to Mr Ranford, this depth of consumer understanding has seen Australian Summerfruit exports increase annually by an average 12% for the last 10 years.
“In the 2019/20 season alone the industry exported over 21,000 tonnes of stone fruit worth $89.11 million,” he continued.
“This project takes it to the next level, helping us refine those requirements and make decisions along the supply chain to grow high-quality fruit that looks, tastes and feels perfect to Chinese consumers and consumers in more than 40 other export markets.”