Viticulture, among other crops, is data intensive, as Abby Rose’s family found when they started farming and found themselves having to keep track of over 8,000 olive trees and a few hectares of vines in the Loncomilla Valley in Chile. Abby had the idea of using an app to capture the information and share it with others, she pitched Sectormentor for Trees as part of the REAP 2015 Start-Up Showcase.
Since then Vidacycle, the company she co-founded, has gone from strength to strength. Now specialising in viticulture, Vidacycle’s community lead Annie Landless is speaking at the Pollinator event “Nothing to W(h)ine About – Uncorking the Opportunities for Innovation in Viticulture”.
We asked Annie and Abby about how the company has grown since its launch at REAP.
How has the direction of Vidacycle changed since those early days?
At Vidacycle we are about building farm businesses of the future – we help build soil health and profitability on farms around the world.
When we spoke at REAP we were a two-person company and really just finding our feet. We are now six people strong, supporting 100 farms on multiple continents with Vidacycle services.
Customers now include: Ridgeview Vineyard; Rathfinny Wine Estate; the National Trust and the Leckford Estate (the Waitrose Farm), as well as many other pioneering small to medium scale farms and vineyards.
- Three apps: Sectormentor; Soilmentor and Workmentor
- Regenerative Transition Consultancy – supporting farms in their transition to more regenerative farming
- Software consultancy – we have also worked closely with NIAB in the last year to develop a prototype soil quality dashboard for UK farms.
Thinking back over the last few years and the growth of the business do you have any learning points to share?
Looking back, we started out with too broad an offering. We were offering a tool that could do many different things.
Actually, everything in farming is quite specific to each crop, so people aren’t looking for a broad tool. As soon as we started focusing on providing tools for specific areas of farming, such as viticulture, we were able to provide much more value and able to share helpful learnings amongst the community.
Please can you outline how Vidacycle supports viticulture – what problem does it address, have you evidence of the benefit it provides?
Viticulture requires a lot of close observation of the vines and generally each vine will have numerous passes by a human each season.
Many viticulturalists are already noting down these observations on paper, in notebooks and then typing it up back at home and trying to analyse it all in an endless number of spreadsheets.
People spend a lot of time looking for the right spreadsheet. Often those spreadsheets are very difficult for anyone else to discern, so data gets lost with a change of staff.
Sectormentor makes it easy to record any observations of the vines on your phone. That information is illustrated and turned into a visual immediately to help you use those observations to inform management decisions.
Sectormentor also provides flexibility for people to customise what they are recording but keeps everything in one place. As you build up data over a number of years, the tools become more and more powerful as they learn from past years data.
Sectormentor provides a tool kit for viticulture
- yield predictor
- ripeness indicator
- vine health indicator
- phenology tool
- biodiversity and soil health trackers.
For the smaller vineyards, it allows more than one person to go out and collect the data required to get a good yield prediction, or understand vine health, which is vital in a small team.
For larger vineyards we have found the Ripeness Indicator to be one of their favourite tools.
We have heard numerous reports about how helpful it is to the winemaking and viticulture team to be able to look at the ripeness curve for each block across many different sites, and see the latest information on how the acids and sugars are progressing.
In the run-up to harvest everything gets quite hectic so this saves them a lot of time as well as ensures better grape quality at picking. This helps them predict which blocks they will need to harvest when, and in what order.
Vineyards have increased in the UK – what do you think the future holds – will we need varieties able to cope with climate change or will warmer conditions be beneficial for vines?
As many of our visualisations provide an in depth analysis of historical data we can very clearly see how, for example, ripening dates have gradually shifted earlier and earlier over the last 20 years – there is no doubt things are changing and the summers do appear to be getting hotter. No one knows how the climate will change here in the UK, certainly the reality of climate change to date is that everything becomes less predictable and more extreme, so that is not helpful for anyone in agriculture.
It is likely we won’t be able to develop varieties fast enough to cope with these extreme conditions, so the best protection is to build soil health so that the plants can access all the resources they need for longer in the year.
To register for the Pollinator event:“Nothing to W(h)ine About – Uncorking the Opportunities for Innovation in Viticulture”, being held at Cambridge Consultants, Cambridge on 11 February 2020 @ 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm