User Case Study: Rooted - Dirk Sutherland

User case study DS rooted 2

Who and what is “Rooted”?

Dirk Sutherland’s company is called Rooted. Rooted is a technical consultant agency that consists of fertigation and soil health specialists. “The purpose of our company is to ensure that optimal plant production and high product quality is achieved. We achieve this by focusing on three primary components: plant nutrition, irrigation, and soil biology. If these three components are well integrated, optimized yield and product quality can be achieved. We offer a customized and not a generic solution to our clients.”

Where are your clients located?

Rooted’s clients are located all over the Western Cape. Their largest client base, however, lies within the apple industry, in particular, the Ceres and Grabouw areas. They also have clients in the Klein Karoo (Montagu, Bonnievale and Barrydale) producing stone fruit, in De Doorns (table grapes) and the Rawsonville and Robertson area (wine grapes).“Even though most of our clients are in the fruit industry, our approach is not crop-specific.” User Case Study: Rooted - Dirk Sutherland

How did you get started with FruitLook?

One of Dirk’s assignments at his previous job was to research and evaluate the remote sensing (NDVI) industry. “I was searching for service providers, but found only a few commercially available at the time and they were rather expensive.” Through his research, Dirk stumbled upon Fruitlook and started to use the NDVI data for an apple research trial.

How do you use FruitLook and/or integrate it into your everyday actions and decision-making process?

Dirk uses Fruitlook in three instances, namely for problem identification, long-term monitoring, and finding the most representative areas within a block.
1. Problem identification: The easiest way to increase the overall production of an orchard is to firstly identify areas within a block that are under-performing. Fruitlook helps to find such areas. These under-performing areas will go through an evaluation process which will help to identify the most limiting factor for production. “We start by evaluating the soil’s physical, chemical, and biological properties and then move on to irrigation. Once the most limiting factor is identified, we will implement a plan to rectify the problem.”
2. Long-term monitoring: Fruitlook is used to monitor the progress of the under-performing areas on a monthly basis and to evaluate whether the rectification plan worked. It also keeps an eye on the rest of the block throughout the season and helps to identify areas of concern timeously.
3. Identifying the most representative areas within a block: Fruitlook can be used to identify spatial differences within a block and find the most representative areas for taking soil samples. “One would normally take four random soil samples in a 1 ha block, resulting in an analysis that is not always the best representation of the soil for that block.” More accurate soil sampling can address variation where needed and eliminate unnecessary costs.

Any stories of how FruitLook has helped you in a specific situation?

Fruitlook helped Dirk to identify an area of high soil pH in the middle of a citrus orchard on a farm near Robertson. The citrus suffered from severe iron deficiency, accompanying low phosphate levels and poor root development. The action was taken to correct the iron levels for these specific sites and over time production levels rose. “Overall, Fruitlook has helped to identify variation within a block”.

What would you say is the biggest benefit of FruitLook?

“The data is accurate,” Dirk says Fruitlook helps to eliminate some of the preliminary work before a farm visit. “By the time I arrive on a farm, I already know where the areas of concern are.”

What would you recommend as the biggest improvement for FruitLook?

“To be able to set the resolution yourself.” Dirk feels that 10 m x 10 m might be too small for grain and citrus producers, leading to large datasets. He also feels that there might be situations where it will be beneficial to “zoom in” on an area for which a higher resolution will be suitable. “It will be great if one can do irrigation scheduling based on a weather forecast.” The actual Evapotranspiration values on Fruitlook is one week old. If historical data and future data can be offered by Fruitlook, the producer can do better planning for the week ahead. Dirk says that Fruitlook users might also benefit from an “evaluation process” option that can guide them in finding reasons for variations and even finding solutions. “This might be an option for which users will be willing to pay.”

What would the best channels be to communicate to users?

“The easiest way to introduce Fruitlook to prospective users is through organizations like VinPro and Hortgro.” Dirk recons email communication with current users are better than WhatsApp. “When I am very busy, I might listen to a voice note or quickly read a message, but might not reply immediately and will then forget about it. But I usually have a designated time to read and answer emails.” He says that emails are also a more formal channel of communication than WhatsApp.

How can FruitLook be used in the context of regenerative farming or climate-smart farming?

Regenerative agriculture is a very broad concept, but the Rooted team focuses mainly on carbon sequestration and the stimulation of soil biology. “Actively growing plants can exude up to 20% of all carbon fixed through their roots. This is the best and most efficient way to increase the soil’s carbon content and consequently stimulate soil life. Therefore, if you can implement a solution-driven process, which includes Fruitlook, to identify and eliminate the most limiting factor, one can optimize photosynthesis, thus increasing and optimizing carbon fixation in the soil.