Wine boffins

The Vine­yard of the Fu­ture

Qantas - - Qbusiness -

The holy Grail for wine­mak­ers is fast, ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, from how to im­prove a vine­yard’s yield to tweak­ing the al­co­hol con­tent of the grapes. For five years, aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions in Aus­tralia, Chile, Spain and Italy have col­lab­o­rated on The Vine­yard of the Fu­ture ini­tia­tive, with China and South Africa join­ing more re­cently, col­lect­ing data on vari­ables that wine­mak­ers are find­ing ever more chal­leng­ing in the face of cli­mate change. Sen­sors in soil, on plants, in the at­mos­phere and even on drones are gath­er­ing data, which is mar­ried with other big-data sets, such as his­tor­i­cal weather records. The Vine­yard of the Fu­ture team is us­ing it all to de­velop grower-friendly tools to tackle crit­i­cal viti­cul­ture is­sues, in­clud­ing early de­tec­tion of pests and dis­ease, wa­ter and nu­tri­ent stress for ir­ri­ga­tion and fer­tiliser man­age­ment and smoke con­tam­i­na­tion from bush­fires.

One tool that’s al­ready at work from The Vine­yard of the Fu­ture can re­lieve grow­ers of the ar­du­ous task of man­ual point quadrat anal­y­sis. Es­sen­tially, it’s pok­ing a rod into a grapevine to count the num­ber of leaves, grape clus­ters and branches it hits then tabling the num­bers and us­ing that raw in­for­ma­tion to as­sess things such as ir­ri­ga­tion sched­ul­ing. “It’s re­ally timein­ten­sive,” says in­ter­na­tional co­or­di­na­tor Dr Sigfredo Fuentes and it’s not that ac­cu­rate.

Fuentes and his team at The Univer­sity of Mel­bourne have col­lab­o­rated with The Univer­sity of Ade­laide to de­velop Vi­tiCanopy, an app that analy­ses pho­tos of the vines to per­form the same task. The grower walks through the vine­yard with their phone on a selfie stick, snap­ping pho­tos un­der the vines. The app, which uses the de­vice’s GPS ca­pa­bil­i­ties, in­stantly analy­ses the im­ages for the same key in­di­ca­tors as man­ual check­ing. Wine Aus­tralia funded the de­vel­op­ment of the free app, which, since its re­lease in 2015, has been down­loaded more than 5000 times. “Most of the down­loads are from Amer­ica and Ja­pan,” says Fuentes. “You can use it for any crop, if you change some pa­ram­e­ters. Mostly it’s be­ing used for ap­ple trees in Amer­ica and cherry trees in Ja­pan.”

Fuentes es­ti­mates that point quadrat anal­y­sis takes 10 min­utes per plant, plus another 10 min­utes for the cal­cu­la­tions. Vi­tiCanopy does the job in sec­onds for each plant. Of course, de­vel­op­ment of the tech­nol­ogy is much slower; The Vine­yard of the Fu­ture team spent more than four years work­ing on the app. “You can build an app in a day to get num­bers but to see if the num­bers mean some­thing is a dif­fer­ent story... the val­i­da­tion is much longer,” says Fuentes. “You need to test them in dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments and coun­tries.”

Now they’re work­ing on adding fea­tures to the app, such as real-time anal­y­sis of the vine self­ies to pre­dict key facets of the ul­ti­mate har­vest – for ex­am­ple, sugar, acid and polyphe­nol con­tent – in time for grow­ers to mod­ify grow­ing con­di­tions and af­fect the qual­ity of their har­vest.

“We’re also in­te­grat­ing bi­o­log­i­cal sen­sors with the dig­i­tal realm,” says Fuentes. Dogs are be­ing taught to hunt for pests and dis­eases in the vine­yard, in much the same way as snif­fer dogs are trained. The hounds – bea­gles, Labradors and Ger­man shep­herds – are all ex­cel­lent students but Fuentes says any dog can learn to wear a back­pack con­tain­ing a phone with an app. “They’re trained to go plant by plant to find a spe­cific pheromone or scent and they sit down when they de­tect their stim­uli.” The app reg­is­ters that they’re sit­ting and a GPS po­si­tion is au­to­mat­i­cally recorded. Han­dlers sim­ply fol­low the dogs around the vine­yard. At the end, the app, which has been send­ing the data to the cloud in real time, gen­er­ates a map of in­fec­tion in the vine­yard or field.

It’s fast, pre­cise and less in­va­sive than, say, the old-style de­tec­tion of the much­feared grape phyl­lox­era. Find­ing the mi­cro­scopic root-feed­ing in­sect re­quires dig­ging a pit, ex­ca­vat­ing the roots and hav­ing them in­spected by an en­to­mol­o­gist. “It’s com­pli­cated and ex­pen­sive,” says Fuentes, whereas dogs can de­tect pheromones up to 60 cen­time­tres deep in the soil.

The only trou­ble is, grow­ers can be slow to ac­cept change. “It’s a very par­tic­u­lar cul­ture and they don’t be­lieve much in new tech­nolo­gies,” says Fuentes. “You need to demon­strate it in the field and it needs to be re­ally easy to use. When they see what it can do, they’re amazed.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.