Today’s grape growers have an arsenal of technologies to help them improve the quality and quantity of their vines and yields.
Plant health mapping, automated machinery, inground sensors and bunch counting are no longer just hi-tech buzzwords, they are increasingly everyday tools employed by growers and managers to help them manage nutrition, vine stress and disease in the vineyard.
However, in the excitement to explore new technologies, it is critical growers don’t discount the need for highly accurate and up-to-date site maps – the very foundation that helps many tech solutions and existing operations improve their performance.
There is no such thing as a uniform vineyard and for many years, Wine Australia has funded Australian-based precision viticulture research and development to help provide evidence-based tools to manage variability. These projects have aimed to better enable growers to measure, map and understand their variability, and understand the interaction between grape yield and quality.
There are several providers within Australia that can supply the technology to create high precision base maps that geolocate and label vines, rows and blocks. Some of these maps can then be overlaid with soil mapping, irrigation and other records, and can be accessed through portals or apps for further analysis.
Wine Australia is working with a group of producers in the Barossa and Coonawarra to trial the technologies of one of these providers during the next growing season.
The technology being tested is by Adelaide-based company AirborneLogic, who was an early adopter of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), infra-red and hyperspectral imagery to create precision mapping and vine health assessment products and service.
In addition to the creation of maps and vine assessment, AirborneLogic has an online portal that allows growers to compare variability in canopy area across their vineyard.
“The data gathered can be used in a number of ways, including the quick counting of vines, tallying missing plants and bare wire, mapping vigour zones for variable rate applications and improving information derived from destructive sampling and in-ground sensors,” said Dan French, Business Development Manager for AirborneLogic.
Remote sensing tools allow growers to rapidly assess vine health and accurately compare changes over time to help predict the outcomes of management actions and environmental variables.
“The aim is to help you spot the problems faster, usually well before you would normally see it,” said Dan.
AirborneLogic’s technologies can be found in Australian vineyards. However, the new trial will build on the experiences from other producers around Australia, while providing a structured trial to demonstrate the value of existing precision viticulture technologies.
Owner / operator Rob Jaeschke and vineyard manager James Myer from Hill River Clare Estate have been working with AirborneLogic’s tools for some time, and recently used data gathered from the vineyard’s canopy to determine low vigour areas in the vineyard.
“This allowed us to target specific blocks and carry out vine training and extension of arms where applicable. We believe this work will result in 10 tonnes of extra fruit next season,” Rob said
“Working from specific detail rather than working off a hunch – and getting that information from my office in less than hour, rather than driving and walking the entire vineyard, has been really valuable.”
The upcoming trials in the Barossa and Coonawarra will be with medium and small producers who are planning to extract additional quality outcomes from their crops in the next vintage. Once the trials have been completed, the results will be explored in RD&A News.