The hot, catastrophic summer of 2019-2020 followed an extended dry period for much of NSW. For the
state’s horticultural growers, that combination reduced water storage across
many orchards.

For Ian Pearce, who grows apples and cherries near Orange, it meant making tough decisions on which
blocks to focus efforts, and which to sacrifice and leave unwatered.

However, in the space of just a year, the way these types of difficult decisions
are made is being turned around through the adoption of on-farm digital

Ian is partnering with NSW DPI in its Climate-smart Horticulture Pilot,
part of the broader $6.7 million Climate Smart Pilots project. The Horticulture
Pilot aims to increase resilience to climate change by improving the
understanding and use of digital agriculture technologies.

By partnering with Ian, NSW DPI is demonstrating how implementing digital
agriculture technologies within a commercial operation can improve climate
resilience through adaptive management decisions that provide yield, quality
and productivity benefits.

Technologies tested

Already one digital agriculture technology, soil moisture monitors, is
making a difference.

Multi-depth soil moisture probes in each block have allowed identification of its thresholds and calculation of plant available water (PAW).

Temperate Fruits and Horticulture development officer Jessica Fearnley,
who is advising the
Horticulture Pilot and leading its implementation, says soil moisture
monitoring provides essential information for good irrigation management. “This
results in better control over water inputs, better yields and increased

At Ian’s 18-hectare orchard, better data on soil moisture trends has already
changed how irrigation is managed.

Although it is commonly acknowledged in the industry that drip
irrigation is more efficient than other irrigation methods, easy access to
irrigation data showed just how dramatic that difference was.

Soil moisture sensors revealed that drip irrigation provided improved water efficiency
compared to traditional surface sprayers, data that very quickly motivated Ian to change Stoneleigh’s irrigation
to a complete drip system.

Ian says that if he had this information earlier, the 2019-2020 season
would have been completely different. “It would have motivated me to make the
change earlier, and perhaps it would have saved some of the areas sacrificed.”

Ian Pearce with apples harvested in February 2020 from blocks that were not sacrificed.

Although happy with the short-term benefits of soil moisture monitoring,
there are also longer-term benefits associated with this digital technology.

Miss Fearnley says that water security is vital to horticultural operations.
“Water has always been a closely monitored resource as licences and
infrastructure require high capital outlay. With additional scrutiny on water extraction
and the rising electricity costs associated with pumping, there is increasing
pressure to optimise water use efficiency and minimise power use. This means
closer monitoring of water resources is essential and the new digital tools
being trialled provide an accessible way of doing this.”

Other technologies being tested at Stoneleigh will bring a mix of both
short and long-term benefits.

An automatic, on-site weather station measures local conditions providing greater relevance compared
with regional weather sites. The solid-state machine measures 12 weather
variables, including air temperature, relative humidity, vapour and barometric
pressure, wind velocity and direction, solar radiation, precipitation, and lightning

It provides real-time weather data for record keeping, but also offers farm-specific forecasting
opportunities. This data can be used for planning spray activities, irrigation
scheduling, and chill portion calculations.

Photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) sensors, both above the canopy
and at ground level, estimate the amount of light intercepted by the canopy. By
giving an indication of canopy size, this tool can help measure tree growth and

Mounted within the
canopy, are temperature and humidity sensors to help predict conditions that favour
disease and infection. These sensors can help trigger management decisions, such
as preventative or controlling sprays or how extensively to prune.

To help monitor farm resources, depth and temperature sensors are being
trialled in chemical and fuel tanks. For water accounting, flow sensors will
measure how much water is being pumped, while wireless irrigation valve
controllers that allow irrigation schedules to be automated will be tested.
They can improve water use efficiency gains, reduce labour and add convenience.


All the data produced by the technologies are easily accessed through
the NSW DPI FarmDecisionTECH website.

The dashboard
shows current conditions for each sensor, represented by a widget, an easy to
read graph, table of values or slider. Historical data can also be downloaded
to allow additional analysis. Notifications and alerts can be setup for any

Economic improvement

Miss Fearnley says the pilot comes at an important time for the
horticulture industry, Australia’s second largest rural production industry worth $2.2
billion annually.

“Not only have years of dry seasons effected irrigation capacity, but
technology to monitor a range of on-farm inputs has evolved and can lead to
improvements in yield, quality and productivity.

“Horticulture is a high value, high input industry. Digital technology
can monitor, predict and automate some decisions, reducing input and labour costs
leading to economic and environmental sustainability improvements.”

Dr Allen Benter, who leads NSW DPI’s Climate Smart Pilots project,
says the aim is to improve the horticultural
industry’s knowledge of this technology and associated decision-making tools.

“There are technologies and tools available that can help the industry adapt to climate
change. So, we want to overcome any barriers to adoption and reduce confusion
among growers.

“By making sure the data gathered and used at our Stoneleigh pilot is available to all, we can show
others in the industry how the technologies and tools tested there can be used
to make better, more informed decisions elsewhere and ensure the industry is in
the best place to adapt to a changing climate.”

Field days, both on farm and virtually will be held over the
course of the four-year pilot.

For more information, contact Jessica Fearnley. Email: