Alex Bleasdale

Sustainable intensification of top fruit production through precision orchard management using novel remote sensing technologies

I am fortunate enough to be studying this project on precision orchard management in my hometown of Lancaster. I was drawn towards this project for its application of smart technology to solve real-world environmental challenges, and the potential for my research to have a tangible impact on the food industry.

I have a multidisciplinary background that started with a Mechanical Engineering BEng at Coventry University. Engineering challenged me into tackling complex problems, managing long-term projects, and taught me the benefits that working alongside industry can have. After a placement year as a Project Engineer in the aerospace industry, I realised my passion lead more towards using my skills to tackle environmental issues. For my undergraduate dissertation, I researched the use of automation technologies in horticulture, primarily automatic harvesting of tomato, cucumbers and sweet peppers. The realisation soon came that although a vast amount of research had been done in the area, there were still a lack of solutions commercially available. Understanding the gaps between ‘smart’ farming and the current standard practice is partly what inspired me to undertake this project.  In my effort to understand more about environmental issues facing society and how we deal with these I completed a Masters in Environmental Management from Lancaster University.  I found a love for research and new I wanted to further my academic career at a PhD level.

My project will cover the theme of sustainable crop production. I will research and deploy the use of novel remote sensing technologies and data analytics for an objective and quantifiable way of acquiring information on the condition of a large number trees across an orchard. This data will be used to develop algorithms that can identify the precise requirement of management inputs necessary that may increase yield and quality whilst minimising labour, energy and chemical inputs. This project will be completed in with my industrial partner Worldwide Fruit, a supplier of top quality fruit to UK supermarkets. Worldwide Fruit will help introduce my research to growers and implement my findings into commercial orchards within the UK.