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Photo: Wine Australia

Digital system has the potential to reduce production costs

RD&E News | November 2019
Photo: Wine Australia
08 Nov 2019
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Riverland grapegrowers have just completed road-testing the first stage of a digital vineyard guidance system that aims to save on production costs, particularly in labour and operating expenses.

A collaboration between Riverland Wine and University of Adelaide engineers, scientists and economists, the system uses a range of agricultural technologies including sensing, connectivity and data analytics, to assist prediction and decision making.

The project emerged from a 'Hack Fest' held between Riverland growers and a team of academics with expertise in engineering, computer science, robotics and viticulture in 2018, which was then piloted for six months this year.

‘Riverland growers consistently produce grapes “fit for purpose”, and there were perceived to be significant opportunities to use digital systems to reduce production costs’, said Chief Executive of Riverland Wine Chris Byrne.

‘Growers expressed a desire to work with researchers to share and develop their vision for viticultural innovation through research, analysis and implementation of digital vineyard management systems. With this focus, over following months the Integrated Vineyard Precision Control System concept emerged.’

Researcher Seth Westra from the University of Adelaide said while there are many useful systems in the market that provide growers with readings from various sensors, the research team was intrigued with the question of what the explosion of sensors and other data acquisition technologies might mean for how growers operate their vineyards.

‘In particular, we wanted to know what might be possible if a computer system could be designed to learn about all aspects of vineyard operation and vine growth over multiple seasons. From tracking the water used for irrigation and how efficiently the irrigation system is performing, to monitoring what is happening in the soils and plants using newly developed camera-based systems that show how the canopy is developing over the growing season; providing real-time feeds of the price of energy and water; and recording data such as spray diaries and vine management activities.

Specifically, the team set out to answer a couple of key questions:

What if a system could be built that collates all of this information in a single and easily accessible one-stop-shop?

And if such a system could be built, how could the team harness this information to help inform growers to make better decisions?

In less than six months, the team was able to demonstrate that building such a system was not only technically feasible, but has the potential to provide advice to growers to support decisions in a whole range of operations.

‘What is more, we found that such a system could be built economically, yielding a strong return on investment for the grower’, said Seth.

Seth said taken as a whole, the technologies used in the pilot project have the potential to transform vineyard processes by enabling near real-time tracking and/or future prediction of vineyard decisions.

He said while an operational version of the system is not yet built, ‘that was never the role of a pilot project.’

‘But as we move into the next phase, we know what is achievable and possible, and we have a much better idea of what should be prioritised and where the greatest value for growers lies. But most of all, the university team has built close personal relationships with the Riverland growers who will guide the system development, and help make sure that what is produced is practical and useful to the whole wine grape growing community.’

He said the long-term aim of the project was to create a system that collated a variety of information that collectively could support on-farm decision making and ultimately improve gross margins and profitability for growers.

The Final Report from this pilot can be found here.

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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.