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Agtech offers solution on irrigation conundrum

RD&A News | July 2022
22 Jul 2022
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Like many vineyards around the world, variability is a challenge for Torbreck Vintners.

Chief viticulturist Nigel Blieschke joined Torbreck in 2015 and noticed variability in one vineyard in particular – Torbreck’s 20-hectare Descendant Vineyard, located on the western side of the Barossa region.

“There was quite a bit of variability in terms of growth, and some areas were defoliated as summer started. I spent some time investigating the causes of the variability and in the end, it came down to soils and irrigation – and the way the vines were being watered,” he recalls.

Nigel said Torbreck is lucky in that it has good access to water on all its vineyards, but the issue – particularly on with vineyards on the western side of the Barossa where soils tend to be shallower – was when to water.

Nigel turned to Swan Systems for a solution. Swan Systems has developed a configurable water and nutrient management software solution that helps grape growers make data-driven decisions about how much and when to irrigate.

In addition to water management, Swan offers sophisticated fertiliser planning, logging and reporting functionalities. These include being able to automatically include irrigation water nutrient loads for fertiliser planning, and reporting of usage against budgets.

“Our core offering involves pulling data from different pieces of technology across the vineyard and brings that together to make better, more accurate decisions around irrigation,” said Tim Hyde, the CEO of Swan Systems.

One of the first things Nigel installed at Torbreck when he started was a soil moisture monitoring system and irrigation controller that allowed Nigel and the team to control irrigation from their phones and computers. The continuously logging soil moisture probes and irrigation controller are then able to interface with the Swan Systems software. 

 “There is always a lag between soil running out of water and vines going into distress, so we installed an irrigation system with a radio link to all the irrigation valves to shorten that lag,” said Nigel.

“We also incorporated satellite imagery and the use of weather stations to better understand and manage the variability of the Torbreck vineyard.

“Swan Systems links everything together under one system, so we can forecast irrigation requirements that considers all of the inputs.”

Two seasons in, Nigel said the system was working well – and gave Torbreck’s vineyards much needed consistency.

“Last year we were feeling our way, and this year we’ve added some temperature canopy sensors,” said Nigel.

“We now have a very strong system we can adapt to the changing climate and that gives us the consistency we need.

“We had some years that were great and some years that were not great. This system is allowing us to even out that consistency – so we can look at our past, and what’s expected in the future and then make timely decisions around that.”


Want to know more? A Wine Australia agtech demonstration day featuring Nigel and the Swan System will be held soon in the Barossa. Keep an eye on our events page and RD&A News for the details. 

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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.