Photo: Ewen Bell / Wine Australia

Digital age yield forecasting may be as simple as a quick ‘tag and scan’

Photo: Ewen Bell / Wine Australia
10 Aug 2018
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This project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program.

Grapegrowers may soon be able to forecast yield and plan the coming vintage without taking a step – or a bud sample – from their vineyard.

In fact, all it may take is a simple ‘tag and scan’ of fruit buds in-situ.

Through advances in digital yield forecasting, researchers are optimistic that they are on track to develop a method using infra-red technology that can potentially predict bud fruitfulness without the need to remove, dissect and inspect buds.

‘The days of producers sending bud samples off for dissection each year to provide information about bud fruitfulness to allow them to plan for the coming vintage may well be numbered’, said Dr Joanna Jones, who is part of the Grape and Wine Science Group at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture at the University of Tasmania.

Dr Jones has been working closely on digital options to forecast yield with Dr Thomas Rodemann, a specialist in spectroscopy, and Dr Bob Dambergs, who has extensive knowledge in the application of spectroscopy to novel applications.

The first stage of the project, which began in August 2016 as part of the ‘Digital Technologies’ project through the Australian Government Department of Agriculture's Rural R&D for Profit Program, tested whether digital scanning technology was capable of finding the right tissue mass to give an accurate reading.

Indeed it was.

The next step was to look at a wide range of parameters that can affect bud fruitfulness – and determine whether or not they could strengthen the prediction model.

Dr Jones said a key challenge of the project has been creating a tool that is both applicable and valuable to the wine sector in the time frame that nature and the seasons allow.

‘Our research window of opportunity is confined to pruning time, and we work around the clock to collect as much data as possible. It’s a pretty hectic time for us!’

Photo: supplied
Dr Joanna Jones and Dr Bob Dambergs scan Pinot Noir buds

During the ‘off-season’, the team tests the data using a wide range of devices.

‘We have sampled thousands of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay buds in recent winters, scanning them with different near-infrared (NIR) devices – from benchtop instruments to portable devices that can be used in vineyards – before dissecting the buds and recording the number and size of the inflorescences’, Dr Jones explained.

The team also diligently records other factors, such as bud necrosis or damage.

‘The aim is to obtain a variety of fruitfulness levels, ranging from no inflorescences through to highly fruitful buds. Once we have these data, we can incorporate them into our model and perform discriminate analysis.’

In the past couple of months, the team has expanded its field trial, which is being carried out at Shaw and Smith’s Tolpuddle vineyard in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley.

‘We have tagged and scanned buds on the vines and will return towards the end of the year to record actual inflorescence number and size.’

Dr Jones said the latest body of work is exciting and has huge potential for growers.

‘Our ultimate aim is to find a way to help growers deal with the year-to-year fluctuations in bunch numbers, so they can more accurately predict yields.

‘The benefits of this will be wide reaching, allowing better prediction of requirements for labour and equipment, through to more accurate wine intake scheduling and better informed sales and marketing.’

This project is supported by Wine Australia, through funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program and The University of Tasmania. Lastek and Shaw and Smith have also provided support.

Photo: supplied

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