Opinion: sustainable water supplies mean life or death for fruit industry

December 20 , 2013

By Green Tick Certification Limited principal scientist Susan Harris

Susan Harris _ headshotAs everyone in the fruit growing industry is painfully aware, safe, sustainable, and high quality water supplies are life and death for the industry. Numerous growers around the world already experience major management problems with ensuring safe, sustainable, and economic supplies of water for their fruit crops. Competition for water is almost always intense. Changing rainfall patterns, drought, and flood are three impacts of climate change that every grower will need to manage throughout the 21st Century, and the precise scale and location of these changing water supply patterns are, at present, uncertain.

To face this, growers will be able to use a new smartphone and cloud computing technology called Project Blue, which allows water quality and quantity to be measured accurately and reported online, live, 24/7. It provides a standardized approach with complete electronic coverage. The information is automatically geo-referenced, so it can be set up to cover a single orchard, multiple orchards, catchments, regions, even a whole country or continent. Live photos and videos can be uploaded and read next to scientific data.

Because Project Blue can link with any database built according to international standards, weather and climate change rainfall predictions, for example, can be modeled at will. Water information can be readily inputted into compatible crop yield software, and into certain economic models used for business planning and marketing.

The information is presented in formats and reports that are easily understood, and the reports can be customized for any purpose.  They can be linked to social media, and standardized for government, quality, certification and sustainability reporting, delivered direct to the boardroom in annual reports, or live.  The most powerful reports in future will probably be water futures reports linked to climate change modeling.

How it works

Project Blue sources information from photos, videos, Facebook posts, smartphone apps, scientists or technicians in the field, electronic monitoring stations and telemetry, e-data from any compatible source, and from the laboratory.  The information is uploaded to the ‘cloud’, analysed there, formatted into the required report, and sent securely to the recipient via text, email, telephone, maps, photos, .html files, .doc files, .pdf reports, videos or live streaming.

Apps check the statistics and quality of the data upload and analyses, and external verification is used to make sure the numbers make sense in context.  Data management includes constant upgrading and quality checks.  All systems are run as securely as possible, and the Project Blue platform is multilingual. The technology can also be designed to bolt on to existing systems, or stand alone.

Economics

The economics of the technology rest on efficiency and strategic knowledge gains. The automation of data collection, analysis and reporting, and the ability to link with other business management tools, deliver considerable knowledge advantages and cost savings, compared to manual or partially automated systems that can’t ‘talk’ to other technologies.  The most capital expense is incurred in set-up, with annual costs dropping to a steady level once the required inputs and outputs of the system are settled. In other non-fruit industry applications a return on investment (ROI) of 26% and payback period of 3-4 months have been calculated. These figures did not include gains from smart climate change adaptation. Applications in the fruit industry are being sought at present, so that ROI and payback periods may be calculated.

Applications in the fruit industry

A wide variety of applications in the fruit industry are possible. A number of these have been briefly outlined above. To recap, they range from collection and monitoring of individual and multiple orchard data, catchment management, forward fruit supply analysis, competitor analysis, weather and climate risk assessments, water supply and demand trends, government, quality, certification, sustainability and company board reporting,  climate change modeling and water futures.

Project Blue is the invention of a group of water scientists and computer engineers based in New Zealand; the result of a three-year research project. Green Tick Certification Limited is partnering with the Project Blue team to promote this sustainable technology to the water industry worldwide. The objective of the research project was to invent a water management technology for the 21st Century that would work worldwide on a convenient and secure smartphone/cloud platform.

The team believes it has succeeded – there has already been one attempt to reverse engineer Project Blue.  More information is available on Project Blue’s Facebook pages; see Project Blue Global for an overview.  Direct inquiries can be made to Principal Scientist Susan Harris at her email: susan.harris@greentick.com.

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