Can this smart new app help quench vines' thirst?

SUBSCRIBE to AgInnovators’ fortnightly e-newsletter to receive more stories like this.The new vine water-stress smartphone app developed by SARDI and UNSW researchers with funding from Wine Australia, is currently being tested at 15 vineyards across four states.

A new smartphone app that promises to help wine-grape growers measure the water status of their vines is currently being trialled in vineyards across four states prior to release later in 2017.

The portable viticultural tool has the potential to help grape growers make better, more timely water-management decisions regarding their vineyards, says Dr Liz Waters, General Manager of Research, Development and Extension at Wine Australia, which funded the app’s development.

“Irrigating effectively and efficiently helps to optimise vineyard production to produce high-quality wine grapes for fine Australian wines,” Dr Waters notes.

“Through many years of extensive research, methods have been developed to assess grapevine water status. This new app provides a portable solution to measure water status quickly and easily in the vineyard.”

“The app allows growers to make informed irrigation decisions that support the production of high-quality fruit grown to specification,” she says.

Vineyard near Melbourne, Victoria: the portable viticultural tool gives growers instant feedback on the water status of their vines.
Vineyard near Melbourne, Victoria: the portable viticultural tool gives growers instant feedback on the water status of their vines.
Matt Sarah, Flickr CC

How was the new app developed?

In an 18-month project, researchers at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), in collaboration with University of New South Wales (UNSW), evaluated various smartphone-based sensing systems with the goal of developing a “cheap, easy-to-use vine water status-monitoring app” that would help growers manage vineyard irrigation.

Initial trial findings indicated that the thermal camera was the simplest to use and provided accurate information.

The resulting technology, developed by the UNSW project team, allows a grower to take images of the grapevine canopy with a thermal camera attached to a smartphone. The app then analyses the images and uses key information gleaned from them to calculate the vines’ water status.

Depending on the water-status readout, the grower can decide when, whether and how much to water the vines.

“This new app offers grape growers instant feedback on the water status of their vines, and provides them with the flexibility to assess multiple blocks or sections of blocks, and to make irrigation decisions in real time,” explains Dr Kathy Ophel-Keller, Acting Executive Director of SARDI.

The new technology is being trialled on 15 vineyards across four states – South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania – during the 2016-17 growing season; the resulting feedback will be used to fine-tune its development.

The aim is to release a final version of the app later in 2017.

Field trials are underway at several vineyards in South Australia and at McWilliams Wines near Griffith, New South Wales.
Vineyards in the Adelaide Hills wine district of South Australia: the SARDI-UNSW vine water-stress app was developed to help wine-grape growers make better, more timely management decisions regarding irrigation.
Badjonni, Flickr CC

What are the potential benefits to viticulture?

“The management of vine water status is a key tool for grape growers to regulate yield and optimise fruit quality and style,” says SARDI’s Dr Ophel-Keller.

“Uncontrolled water stress has the potential to reduce the yield and quality of grapes and the resulting wine, which in turn reduces the return to growers.”

The app will also help cut input costs, Dr Ophel-Keller says, noting that water and associated pumping can represent “a significant component” of wine-grape growers’ production expenses.

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