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4/08/2017

Vineyard tech in focus

Robots, drones and Artificial Intelligence (AI) were on the agenda at this year’s Australian Society for Viticulture and Oenology conference in Mildura. The two-day conference offered insights in to streamlining a number of vineyard processes through data crunching and drones, and highlighted a few key points where industry can improve: bringing a practical application to research, and having clean data.

The research and insights presented will undoubtedly be at the forefront of innovation in viticulture in the near future. Two topics, in particular, offered immediately obtainable solutions. The first was an app, named Yield (you can download it right now and have a look), presented by Ros Harvey, which compiles problem solving data based on the needs of the grower.

So far, the app takes data gathered from the vineyard site such as soil moisture, weather conditions and historical averages and compiles them using AI to make more accurate predictions for spray plans and irrigation scheduling. It delivers this through a clean and comprehensive mobile app that can even push notifications to the grower, reminding them to spray or advising them against it.

The key to the success of The Yield is that the app works on data gathered specific to the site, and overlays it with history, as well as nearby information (like readings from weather stations overlayed with those of the vineyards own weather station) to create a tailored prediction.

The second topic with immediate application was presented by Dr Luis Sanchez who came in via video link. Sanchez has been working on a project through EJ Gallo Vineyards, managing vineyard variability with controlled variable drip irrigation.

Sanchez's team has produced a successful prototype of the irrigation system. First they select a plot, then take multispectral imaging of the vineyard to identify areas which are lacking in growth.

For his study, he targeted portions of the block that were producing under seven tonnes, and adjusted irrigation (this can also be done alongside other techniques like composting and fertilisers) to bring up the yield on those low-performing areas. This increased the overall yield by 30%.

The computerised system was buried below the surface within the vineyard and controlled remotely by computer. According to Sanchez, current drip irrigation systems cost around $2000–2500 per acre. His team are currently working on producing the proposed system for around $3000–3750 per acre before it’s ready for the market.

The conference ended on the discussion topic “Where will our vineyards be in 20 years?” which conjured up an amusing scene of AI controlled drones flying around, and viticulturists working from the bar with a pina colada in hand. But it also looked more seriously at what's just around the corner. While most of the technology being discussed was 'first generation' and still in the R&D phase there are some solutions much closer to delivering practical outcomes. The panel offered a great understanding of the tech landscape, the need for good data and how things are evolving. There is a lot of valuable background work currently being done which will help the grape and wine community make considered decisions when choosing to invest in emerging technologies.

Read a full report on the conference in the September issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine.


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WID 2017