Plant sensor-based precision irrigation for improved vineyard water use efficiency, grape and wine composition and quality, and vineyard profitability

Summary

Objective

The purpose of this project is to provide new tools to grapegrowers to schedule irrigation based on real-time measurements of vine water status.

Background

Currently, growers schedule irrigation in vineyards using soil moisture sensing (an indirect measure of vine water status and water availability), visual techniques (observing vines for water stress symptoms) or based on weather and/or historical irrigation regimes. These approaches often lead to either over- or under-watering of vines. The project aims to provide growers with a new platform to continuously measure vine water status and provide feedback to a decision support system to optimise irrigation application in vineyards. 

Research approach

The advantage of vine-based sensing of water status for irrigation is that it is independent of soil type and environmental conditions, as the vine integrates both elements. With the advent of low-cost microprocessors and infrared thermal sensors, this new platform has become economically feasible for growers.

The project will build a remote sensing platform to characterise vine water status across a vineyard block. Prototype thermal sensors and micro-tensiometers will be developed and the sensors validated against conventional and established methods of vine water status measurements.

Multi-season field trials of conventional vs. sensor-driven irrigation will compare vine performance, yield, vine and vineyard water use efficiency. This data, together with calculation of water and energy inputs, will allow for a cost-benefit analysis of the different irrigation scheduling approaches.

An irrigation scheduling model with a cultivar-specific algorithm will be established based on continuous sensor data and plant water potential or crop water status thresholds, to automatically control irrigation pumps. The project will aim for wireless connectivity of the sensor network to Cloud-based data platforms that will be accessible by users via a new tablet/smartphone application.

Small lot wines from the treatments will be assessed for basic grape/wine composition and quality (sensory analysis).

Sector benefits

The project will use precision irrigation tools to optimise water application in vineyards and assist growers to improve water use efficiency, yield, grape and wine quality.

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