Workshop plants the seed for precision viticulture in the Hunter Valley

A group of 22 Hunter Valley viticulturists and winemakers came together in September to see and experience firsthand the tools and techniques associated with precision viticulture.

Viticultural consultant Liz Riley said the workshop was an opportunity to plant the seed and start a conversation about opportunities for small to medium-scale producers to implement precision viticulture (PV) tools and techniques – and hopefully undertake some collaborative opportunities as well.

“There’s not a lot of big players, particularly in the lower Hunter, the average size of vineyards is between five and 50 acres.

“I think many still think of PV as a tool for larger wineries and vineyards but it’s a tool that can be used by those big and small to help manage vineyard variability and improve harvest results.

“It was great to see several winemakers attending the workshop, as the benefits of PV are reaped in the winery at the end of the day.”

The workshop, funded through the Australian Grape and Wine Authority’s Regional Program, looked at the technology and opportunities for:

  • plant cell density mapping – identifying variation in the vineyard
  • electromagnetic (EM ) surveys
  • drone/UAVs
  • GreenSeeker technology
  • PV applied to machinery e.g. weed sprayers, recycling sprayers

Ms Riley said workshop speakers Dr Tony Proffitt from Precision Viticulture Australia (Margaret River) and Dan Newsome from Yalumba Wine Company (Coonawarra) did a fantastic job.

“It was a very good combo, Tony was able to talk to the science and mechanics and Dan offered some very practical examples of how it was being employed in the vineyard – big and small. “In fact, Dan showed that, although the collection of PV data might need some high-tech tools to begin with, use of that data in the vineyard can be as low-tech as you need – for example, painting the top of vineyard posts to map out relevant vineyard sections during harvest.

“We also had the opportunity to start talking to a local drone/UAV company – Survey and Drafting Resources Pty Ltd – they demonstrated their drone and we’ve been discussing potential side projects.”

Ms Riley said the take-up of precision viticulture was unlikely to be immediate, but that it was a long-term prospect for many small wineries and vineyards.

“I think the roll out or take-up of the technology and techniques associated with PV will be a multi-year evolution, but the workshop has definitely planted the seed.

“Several of the wineries went away thinking about coming together to undertake a joint plant cell density mapping flight later this year.”

John Picton, from Survey and Drafting Resources Pty Ltd prepares the drone for some vineyard survey work.
John Picton, from Survey and Drafting Resources Pty Ltd prepares the drone for some vineyard survey work.