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Agtech a critical water – and time – saver

RD&A News | February 2023
24 Feb 2023
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Every drop of water counts on Starrs Reach Vineyard, located at New Residence, in South Australia’s Riverland region.

The large in-land holding featuring 210 hectares of wine grapes, 80 hectares of almonds and five hectares of citrus spread over three properties, is privately irrigated by diversion from the River Murray – translating to a significant investment in irrigation infrastructure. 

“Put simply, our irrigation system is the life blood of our vineyard and making every drop of water count is the focus of each day,” said Sheridan Alm.

In November 2021, Starrs Reach Vineyard introduced the Swan Systems platform, a configurable water and nutrient management software solution that helps grapegrowers make data-driven decisions about how much and when to irrigate.

The system also offers sophisticated fertiliser planning, data logging and reporting functionalities. These include being able to automatically include irrigation water nutrient loads for fertiliser planning, and reporting of water usage against budgets.

Today, Starrs Reach Vineyard uses a number of live data points, from the local weather station network, CERES digital imaging and SENTEK Irrimax Live soil probes. These systems are combined with live analysis of current water usage, water budgets and market information to direct the best timing and quantity of applications.

“Irrigation is completely automated using ICC Pro - Mottech and Talgil Dream systems, SENTEK soil moisture monitoring and smart scheduling technology via SWAN Systems,” said Sheridan. 

“This enables water inputs to be micro managed to allow optimal productivity and enhanced fruit flavour and composition.”

All vine nutrition for the Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro, Grenache – along with smaller quantities of Durif, Sauvignon Blanc and Colombard vines – is applied via fertigation through the inline drip irrigation system.
Sheridan said beside the obvious benefit of improved water usage, time savings had been a major benefit of the system. 

“By bringing all the different technologies we use on farm onto one dashboard, it has made the data more relevant and meaningful – and easier to understand and act on.”

“We can track and guide decisions on yield potential at critical growth stages – and find and fix irrigation system performance issues early in the season, saving time, water and optimise inputs and crop potential.”

She said water budgeting would be especially helpful in dry years, “when the price of temporary water must be taken into consideration against expected yield vs. price per tonne.”

Sheridan said weekly online training/mentoring sessions from Swan had been very helpful. 

“Too often, new technology involves a quick handover and a struggle to continue on as the season gets busy. However, by the time harvest rolled around for us, using the Swan dashboard was part of our daily routine with this important support.”

But there have also been challenges with the system in this particularly wet season, including satellite imagery not picking up differences between canopy and mid-row vegetation reliably to pin point where irrigation repairs are required.

“However, in a more typical or drier season, where mid-row growth is not as prolific, may be different.”

Overall, Sheridan and Craig Alm are very happy with the savings in inputs they have seen.

“We have justified our investment in this agtech based on water savings alone, however there is no doubt there have also been savings in labour, time, energy and nutrition inputs.”

This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.

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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.