Inventor helps others while helping himself back to health
They say the most creative minds have seen their fair share of troubles and this is certainly true for kiwifruit orchardist and award-winning innovator David Horwood.
Horwood has experienced severe depression in recent years but has found the process of imagining, designing and creating innovative products for the horticultural industry to be incredibly cathartic.
Horwood and wife Wendy own 10 hectares of kiwifruit orchard in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, growing both green and gold varieties. They have been in the industry for 17 years and have always looked for ways to improve the way they do things.
It was this pioneering spirit, as well as the desire to take back control of his life, that encouraged Horwood to finally put a great idea into action.
Tired of watching a large percentage of pollen settle on the ground when artificially pollinating his kiwifruit vines, Horwood dreamt up a machine that would use the pollen much more efficiently, enabling growers to use less pollen and increase fruit size and quality.
"About 30 per cent of pollination occurs when pollen is blown up into the canopy," he says. "Bees take care of the remaining two thirds, within flowers and between flowers."
Traditional pollination machines only blow pollen up into the plant canopy once, resulting in the fairly low hit rate. An expensive exercise, when pollen costs $3000 per kilogram.
Horwood took his idea to Wilco and Waverley Klein-Ovink of farm engineering company The Wrangler, and within a month Wilco and his colleague Rikus Rautenbach had put together a prototype of the Pollensmart.
The Pollensmart blows pollen into the kiwifruit canopy multiple times and uses a vacuum intake to recycle the fallen pollen.
The first season of trialling the Pollensmart was limited but the results were encouraging, suggesting the machine was capable of raising production and producing greater returns for growers.
Further trials were conducted on Bay of Plenty orchards over the past season, with comparisons made between 100 flower samples consisting of perfect hand-pollinated flowers, bees-only pollination, one, two or three applications of pollen, and light and heavy applications.
The results showed Pollensmart sometimes matched perfect pollination across the various orchards but always outperformed flowers pollinated by bees - by a significant margin.
The Pollensmart was exhibited at Fieldays this year, winning the Fieldays Innovations Launch NZ top award and giving Horwood's confidence a much-needed boost.
"Winning the award has certainly made me feel as though there is some value to my ideas," he says. "It has given me credibility."
Horwood said that in perfect conditions, perfect pollination can be achieved but bees cannot be controlled.
"Bees are fickle; they can disappear to another orchard or area of the orchard quite easily and not return so this is a sure-fire way of making sure pollination occurs and occurs on time."
The Pollensmart has been patented by Horwood and the Klein-Ovinks. Since the Fieldays, a number of machines have been ordered and production is underway.
"I have totally changed what I thought I had to do to get perfect pollination," Horwood says. "It will be really exciting to put into practice what we've learnt and collect more data that will hopefully confirm a lot of the theories I've come up with."
He says the Pollensmart has a limited market as it is confined to kiwifruit but he is pleased that it will help the industry and put his name out there as an inventor.
"More and more people are thinking of using artificial pollination," he says.
The success of the Pollensmart has allowed Horwood to pull himself out of depression and take control of his life again, slowly rebuilding his self-belief.
He believes a large contributing factor to developing depression was an incident which began in 2008 when he and his family were extensively renovating their home. They experienced major issues with the builder and their subsequent approaches to authorities and regulators proved frustrating and highly stressful and left them with a sense of having been badly let down.
"The whole situation completely knocked the confidence out of me," Horwood says. "There are certain people you are led to believe you can always trust and for me that will never be the case again."
As a result of legal action and rectifying building issues, the Horwoods' finances became strained. To make matters worse, the PSA outbreak led to them having to chop 3.25ha of gold kiwifruit off at ground level and 1ha of G9 cut off at stump level.
Two years of a high level of bud rot followed in their Hayward kiwifruit.
Horwood believes the stress of this, coupled with family illness, led to him developing depression.
"You get to a point where you can't sleep, you're not pleasant to your family. I could have kept spiralling down but I had all these ideas for inventions floating around in my mind and I decided to take action."
The Pollensmart is only one of these innovations; Horwood says he has plenty more up his sleeve. Twenty years ago he designed and drove an orchard manure spreader that turned such a good profit it enabled them to buy their kiwifruit orchards.
"I would like to dedicate more time to inventions in the future," he says.
Since the Klein-Ovinks are tied up with orders for the Pollensmart, as well as their other products, the Wrangler and the Ride Over Gate, Horwood is having a hard time convincing them to launch more inventions.
"Wilco and Waverley are great to work with – really honest and hard working," he says. "It's been two years of hard work to bring the Pollensmart to realisation. It would be hard to find someone I trust more than them to build my inventions."