A robotic mango harvester is tipped to revolutionise one of the NT’s largest industries after taking out the Croc Pitch 2023 prize for innovation along with the $1m winners cheque.
Agricultural Robotics persuaded the Paspalis Innovation Investment Fund panel its invention would reshape the mango industry and ease labour challenges that have neared crisis point since the pandemic.
Now in its fifth year and run by the Darwin Innovation Hub, Croc Pitch is Northern Australia’s premier pitching competition for start ups.
Croc Pitch accepts entries that benefit Northern Australia, with eight finalists from around the world pitching for their chance to win $1 million in venture capital.
Patented in 2021, the proprietary auto-harvester uses advanced robotics and vision systems to streamline the mango harvesting process.
It has multiple arms picking fruit at five seconds per arm with a 76 per cent success rate.
Developed in conjunction with the mango industry and Territory-based mango growers Niceforo Farms, the robotic arm is developed to be versatile, with potential application to other soft tree fruit industries.
It has already received financial support from the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation Program.
Agricultural Robotics director Amanda White said the auto harvester was more reliable and safer than manual labour.
“We are looking to upskill farm and factory sooner, with thanks to the generosity and vision of Paspalis, to develop the emerging ag-tech supply chain,” she said.
“This product emerges out of a four-year R&D phase through Central Queensland University, supported by Hort Innovation and the research and development 4Profit scheme.”
Niceforo Farms director Daniel Niceforo said the auto-harvester would ease some workforce issues by reducing the number of workers required.
“We’re always going to need people on farm but the harvester will definitely help with the labour shortage,” he said.
“It’s still got to be financially viable, making it affordable and economical is by far the hardest part of it.”
Two Croc Pitch 2023 runners-up received prizes from the NT Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.
One was awarded to AusNorth Trading’s system for establishing micro businesses in Northern Australia and Southeast Asia growing and fattening mud crabs for export.
The other went to Eden Towers, a sustainable future food company that uses vertical farming technology to grow high quality fresh produce and non-food crops.