Remote sensing and mango variability project to benefit NT industry

A new online tool has been developed that will help the tree crop industry respond more quickly in a biosecurity or post natural disaster emergency response, and a team in Darwin has assisted with the research on mango crops.

The Australian Tree Crop Rapid Response Map, released in November 2017, was developed by the Queensland Department of Science and Environment as part of a $7 million project funded under the Australian Government’s Rural Research and Development (R&D) for Profit program. This national mapping component supports the larger ‘Multi-scale monitoring tools for managing Australian tree crops – Industry meets innovation’ developed and led by the University of New England (UNE) and co-funded by Hort Innovation.

The map identifies the location of all mango, macadamia and avocado in Australia and provides the relevant industry bodies and government agencies a powerful tool for responding to biosecurity outbreaks and for post- disaster monitoring.

As well as developing this national resource, the greater project team is also investigating a range of non-invasive technologies to assist growers to better manage their crops in terms of yield and fruit quality forecasting as well as disease and pest monitoring.

A Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) team of researchers has also been collaborating on the project, by contributing mapping data, discussing the map products with our growers and conducting research on mango crops around Darwin.

DPIR Principal Research Scientist Dr Mila Bristow said her team in Darwin has been assisting in the validation of the Australian Tree Crop Rapid Response Map as well as undertaking the essential ground truthing of satellite images supplied by UNE for the purpose of better understanding variability in production.

“In our remote sensing research the NT DPIR team hand picks and measures each fruit, and collects a range of leaf, tree and soil measurements, to ground truth the yield information sensed from satellite imagery supplied by UNE,” Dr Bristow said.

“It was a two year project and in this second year we returned to four of the five blocks we sampled in the first year, and one new block, across two commercial orchards each growing a different variety of mango.

“Each block was classified into high, medium and low tree vigour based on vegetation indices derived from satellite imagery. Six replicate trees in each of the high, medium and low areas were selected for measurement of tree, fruit and soil metrics related to production.

“It was a big job with all commercial fruits from each of the 90 sample trees harvested by hand, washed, scanned, and weighed.”

Over the six week harvest window in 2017, the team picked 11,864 mangoes, which is more than 5,054 kg of mangoes, from the 90 trees. Differences in mango production between blocks, varieties and tree vigour will be presented to the mango industry in 2018.

Dr Bristow said mapping and remote sensing research is improving understanding on how the NT mango industry may benefit from a range of technology.

The NT DPIR-led research is supported through the More Profit from Nitrogen Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program, Queensland University of Technology’s Institute for Future Environments and Hort Innovation. In-kind support is also provided by the Australian Mango Industry Association.

Dr Bristow thanked the growers for their support throughout the project.

“Our researchers couldn’t do it without the ongoing support of our mango growers who are partners in this work,” she said.

This research is a strong example of how multi-disciplinary teams from industry, government and academia can effectively work together to help address the needs industry.

To ensure the outcomes have national relevance, similar on ground research is being conducted across a number of Australian states. The outcomes offer great benefit to the respective industries, with the final report to be submitted to Hort Innovation and the Federal Government in May this year.

More information about DPIR’s plant industries research is available on the department website.

A team of researchers harvest mangoes as part of the trial