Meet Gavin Devaney, a banana grower farming at Boogan, south of Innisfail
Gavin Devaney is a forward thinking grower who has embraced cutting edge technology on his family property, Bartle Frere Bananas, in order to reduce the environmental impact of his farming practices while also lifting consumer confidence in his product.
The 101 hectare (250 acre) farm, located at Boogan, south of Innisfail, has hosted the Data Driven Sustainable Smart Farming Project - a joint initiative between Applied Horticulture Research and Hitachi Vantara.
Numerous sensors have been installed throughout the farm, plus vehicle trackers and a weather station, all integrated and feeding information back to a single, readable output. Weather tracking, forecasting, soil moisture sensors and AI modelling enable Mr Devaney to determine how much, when, and precisely where controlled irrigation is required. This has resulted in healthier plants and reduced water usage, since irrigation pumps are only run when necessary.
Part of the technology includes solar-powered inline nitrate sensors to help ensure fertilisers are not overused. Previous research by agronomists at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) has shown that over application of irrigation water can accelerate nutrient loss through deep drainage.
The nitrate sensors continuously monitor and report the nitrate levels present in the leachate flowing through the farm's 2.5 kilometres of underground drainage pipes.
The on-farm sensors utilise efficient data transfer methods which also incorporates solar power where applicable. This data helps Mr Devaney ensure the bananas are getting enough fertiliser to grow properly, but not so much that it leads to waste in deep drainage and run-off.
To maximise irrigation efficiency, there are also soil moisture sensors at five different depths throughout the root zone of the banana plants.
Not every banana farm is going to install the level of equipment used at Bartle Frere Bananas, and that's quite okay, according to Mr Devaney. He said it was important not to see the project as the gold standard for all banana farms, because each property has unique circumstances.
"What this system is doing is turning around and saying, well, you don't have sediment run-off because of these practices, you aren't leaching nitrogen due to your practices," Mr Devaney said.
"But if you took the practices I'm doing here and put them on a volcanic rich, red soil of the Palmerston area, you would end up with a different result again and possibly lose all your sediment down into the river.
"You've got to suit the practices to your place and be given a chance to prove those practices."
Mr Devaney is keen to pursue the possibility of individual fruit tracking, showing full traceability from the plantation down to the carton, to bolster consumer confidence. This can be done through geolocation, something Bartle Frere Bananas is well down the road on.
"Given what happened to the strawberry industry in 2018 (the needle tampering incident), which I think was absolutely criminal, I believe that we need this sort of traceability to provide consumer confidence in all fruit and veg," Mr Devaney said.
In November last year, the farm was put on show at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow as part of Hitachi's COP26 presentation entitled Technology and Data Are Key to Save the Environment.