Accuracy in a vineyard is key, as a mistake can wipe out a whole row of vines – so how do you create an infrastructure that will enable automation with a high degree of precision? This was the challenge Ian Beecher-Jones aimed to answer when he looked to introduce robotics to his 2.2 hectare JoJo’s Vineyard. Ian is one of the speakers at REAP 2022; ahead of the conference we asked him about how a ‘digital vineyard’ supports growers and tech providers.
“The ‘Digital Vineyard’ is an industry-changing project that tackles an international geolocation issue for fixed row production. We are working closely with a number of Australian vineyards that share similar challenges.
“My background is precision agriculture from a broadacre perspective, so when we started to plant up the vineyard about four years ago, I was keen to introduce automation, as a number of tasks, especially mowing and under-vine management, are very labour intensive.
“However, to enable this there is a need to digitise the vineyard accurately and correctly and make a representation that is shareable, so whoever we are working with – drone, robot or satellite providers – can have access to the digital infrastructure of the vineyard.
Speeding up onboarding of technology
“Without this infrastructure model, every time a new technology is introduced, or a grower wants to introduce new software to the vineyard, they need to survey it to get successfully onboarded.
“For example, I had a drone company here recently that wanted to fly the vineyard to try out some new grape AI analysis to model vine growth; we have another company wanting to use a GoPro to capture images of the grapes before being sent to Australia for analysis. Another request was from a PhD student looking at the relationship between yield mapping and forecasting.
Creating a digital twin of the vineyard
“Currently, onboarding technology for this type of trial is very time-consuming and costly. It can also be very dull for the grower, who may have to go through the process multiple times!
“We are working with the EU-based i4Trust project (i4trust.org) to create a digital twin of the vineyard. We are using an RTK surveying tool that creates a hyper-local GPS grid of the vineyard, showing every post and every vine.
“Once we have an accurate map, we can start to bring in data from a number of sensors. At the moment (June 2022) we are testing the following technology:
- Node and cordon counting and yield forecasting with Bitwise Greenview
- Yield mapping with eVineyard
- Canopy density scanning with TopCon
- Coverage mapping with Platfarm
- Vine health with DeepPlanet
- Robots with Antobot
- Steering with New Holland & Trimble
- Weather station with Davis Instruments
- Soil moisture and leaf wetness with Davis Instruments
- Soil scanning with SOYL
- Direct drilling and biostimulant application with the home-made S-Rex drill
Making it easier for the farmer
“With a shareable digital infrastructure, the tech providers will be able to open up an API link to access information about the vineyard – so they don’t need to do the surveying from scratch each time.
“This will increase the speed of onboarding and improve the engagement of the farmer. The tech enthusiasts and smart-tech guys are then doing what they want to do, rather than the boring bit of setting everything up.
“The idea is for the digital twin to be like a 3D digital model of the vineyard, to help us to visualise the science.
“The future is scenario mapping – once you know what your soil type is, and you have got your varieties in there and information on growth, you can start to bring in other data sources and track performance. From there you can scenario plan and test it; there is a huge amount to learn in this area and it is applicable to other crops, such as orchards and soft fruit.
Applicable to other sectors
“Viticulture, especially in the UK, is small in comparison to others agricultural sectors, so if we can use the same modelling and the same methodology across orchards it opens up a much bigger market and lowers the cost of implementation.
“The project is just getting established and by the end of autumn 2022 should be ready for launch.
“At the end of August, we should have our first bottles of wine, so to celebrate we plan to launch a website with more information about the Digital Vineyard project, with news about what we are planning.
“I am looking forward to talking about the project at REAP.”
From yield mapping and precision livestock through to digital twins and cloud computing, at REAP 2022 we will be exploring the technology and looking at the implications from a field to landscape level. Making technology farm-centric is core to Agri-TechE’s mission so a key feature of the conference will be a panel of farmers and producers discussing the emerging technologies and future scenarios.