John Mawson and his colleagues are building an orchard which will bear fruit of a very different kind. In fact, it is a digital apple orchard. The project is part of the work New Zealand scientists from Plant & Food Research are pushing ahead. It aims to solve one of the planet’s most pressing problems: how the world will feed itself by 2050 with an estimated population of nine billion, faced with issues like climate change and the major impacts it brings.

Mawson is leader of the Plant & Food Research Growing Futures Direction Digital Horticultural Systems. If that’s a bit of a mouthful, so is the task he and his team are biting off.

They are using a technique known as “digital twinning” to replicate a real orchard. Through a mix of tree crop modelling, data science, new sensing technologies and artificial intelligence, and good old-fashioned hard work, they are creating a virtual orchard growing on the back of an immense amount of data gathered from the real world and a real orchard.