A pollination device that has the potential to significantly lift orchardgate returns for the kiwifruit industry has won the Launch NZ Innovation award at this year's Fieldays.
The award, for products being launched on the market by small- to medium-sized business, is one of the most prestigious of the nine awards handed out annually at the agricultural event in Hamilton which is expected to attract 120,000 visitors this year. The winners received a $5,000 cash prize.
The idea for Pollen Smart, an artificial pollinator for kiwifruit, was devised by Opotiki orchardist David Horwood who was fed up with existing devices that didn't do the job he wanted.
He took his concept in 2014 to Whakatane-based engineering company The Wrangler Limited, owned by Wilco and Waverley Klein-Ovink, who have previously won Fielday awards for their own inventions - the dairy cattle handling system The Wrangler that their company is named for, and the Ride Over Gate, that works like a spring-loaded cattlestop.
Pollen Smart boosts artificial pollen rates in kiwifruit orchards by repeatedly blowing pollen into the orchard's canopy rather than just once. Horwood said it also recycles waste pollen and blows it back into the canopy.
Early trials in 2014 on the prototype model were promising but the inventors wanted another season's worth of trials on Bay of Plenty kiwifruit orchards to be 100 percent sure of its effectiveness before taking the product to market.
Horwood said trials last year on four orchards had shown significant improvements on the size and yield of kiwifruit. Improvements on orchardgate returns varied depending on whether the owners' had already carried out artificial pollination rather than just leaving it up to the bees themselves. On one orchard that had done a lot previously, returns were boosted by $9,000 per hectare, while another orchard that had hardly done any artificial pollination boosted returns in the trial by $40,000 per hectare, he claimed.
"It shows we haven't been doing a very good job of pollinating our kiwifruit orchards," he said.
Pollen Smart has been patented in New Zealand and in overseas countries and Klein-Ovink said they were now selling the device at a special discount of $12,000 for early buyers. He plans to export the product in a number of countries, selling through the same channels as its existing products.
For his part, Horwood says he doesn't care so much about sales as having the device to boost yields in his own orchard of green and gold kiwifruit.
There were 70 entrants in the Fieldays Innovation Awards this year, with the trend being towards mobile apps and data collection software. Peter Nation, NZ National Fieldays Society chief executive, said the number of innovation entrants was growing each year.
"We don't grow, we don't advance, without stopping and asking the pertinent questions about where we are, how we got here, and what it will take to move forward," he said.