Turning up the dial on fruit production

In a world first, scientists in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley take inspiration from sundials to reap rewards for fruit growers and consumers.

Giant fans blow rising heat from the soil back into the orchard

From above, the sundial orchard at Agriculture Victoria’s Tatura SmartFarm could be mistaken for an art installation or a giant flower. Designed with seven evenly spaced petals with five rows of apple and nectarine trees in each petal, its structure sets it apart from its neighbours – rows of trees in traditional research plots.

Planted in 2018, the innovative design gives scientists the opportunity to investigate and solve problems preventing growers from producing more and better-quality fruit.

Standing on the ground in the centre of the orchard, you begin to see there is more to this experimental plot than its design. There are sensors, a state-of-the-art irrigation system and drones hovering above the treetops.

The research team have turned to smart technology to evaluate its effectiveness and more accurately and quickly measure the effect sunlight has on the trees and the fruit they produce.

Research Director Angela Avery said while many people enjoyed fresh fruit, the challenges growers face and the contribution the horticulture sector makes to the state’s economy is not well known.

“Our growers produce some of the best produce in the world which is why there’s demand from markets across the globe,” Angela said.

“In 2019-20, these exports were valued at $1.6 billion to the Victorian economy.

“This is a huge achievement and testimony to the hard work of growers and our research staff who are leaders in their fields of study.

Dr Ian Goodwin in the orchard

“For growers to remain competitive and keep meeting demand from consumers they need innovative science and the latest technology to back their business and that’s exactly what the Tatura SmartFarm allows us to do.”

The Tatura SmartFarm is one of five Agriculture Victoria SmartFarms located in key regional centres across the state. To find out more about the Tatura SmartFarm and Sundial orchard, visit Our SmartFarms page.