Precision Viticulture: The importance of evolving towards sustainable farming and increased productivity

By Savan Patel

Mon, 3 Sep 2018

From the growers of fruits to the producers of wines, everybody within the viticulture business is striving to achieve better results. Fundamentally, winemaking is a craft regulated by mother-nature and with this comes a myriad of variables that must be addressed by vintners to responsibly manage their yields. Even more pressures arise as environmental and societal burdens encourage farmers to adopt more sustainable methodologies but still maintain high quality products. The question is, then, can farmers incorporate precision viticulture to improve the performance of their yields and at the same time make sustainable changes that minimise their impact on the environment? 

What does precision viticulture do for vintners? 

Precision viticulture helps manage and control the changes to environment which can affect output. Through the use of autonomous vehicles and remote and satellite sensors, these technologies can assess and respond to the changes in climate, soil nutrition and even vine well-being. Consequently, farmers can adjust accordingly, customising their management procedures based upon information collected by the machinery. 

How can precision viticulture ensure environmentally-friendly practices? 

In 2015, 41% of California’s water usage came from agricultural irrigation, according to the Southern California Public Radio (SCPR).  

While there is some reluctance among farmers to incorporate machine technologies within their vineyards, the importance of reducing environmental footprints can be mended by the use of satellite technology that don’t directly interfere with the farms.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) hydrologists, Bill Kustas and Martha Anderson, are working alongside Californian growers like E. & J. Gallo Winery to employ satellite technology that can help vineyard managers determine irrigation requirements. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), this data measures the land surface temperatures whilst providing information on moisture levels. Environmentally, this technology provides specific irrigation needs across the thousands of acres of land which consequently ensures less wastage of water and produces a better quality of yield. 

Why should farmers make use of current technologies? 

Farmers in viticulture are suffering from labour shortages making it necessary, now more than ever, to incorporate technology into their methods of winemaking.

John Emmerich, a winemaker from Silverado Vineyards, reports that labour shortages were a large factor when considering opting for optical sorting methodologies. Since employing the use of cameras to harvest the best quality grapes, John tells winery magazine Decanter: “The result is far higher quality with individual berries sorted by pigment density, shape and size”.

Jeff Meier, director of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, also reports to Decanter that technology has enabled the farmers to produce in-house yeast rather than to rely on commercial yeast. Advancements in laboratories and remote systems have allowed farmers to produce yeast from their own vineyards, capturing desired characteristics and more accurately producing wine that reflects the region from which it was made.  

Eventually, farmers within the viticulture industry must evolve to stay relevant to the changes in technology and around the world. Not only are farmers being encouraged to listen to consumer trends with respect to being environmentally friendly, they are encouraged to amend traditional methodologies to ensure better quality products. Finally, embracing the advantages of precision viticulture will lead for an improved quality of life of those across the supply chain. 

Ian Swanson, CEO- Delicato Family Vineyards, will be speaking at AG 4.0 panel on Big Data, where discussions will focus on getting a better understanding not only of the technologies that can help collect and manage ever-more precise and detailed data, but the questions presented after this in relation to how this information can be best used.

Ian has over 30 years of experience in international finance and operations covering the consumer products, healthcare IT and pharmaceutical industries. Throughout his career, he has developed broad expertise in driving and supporting business growth in emerging international markets and a proven track record of adding value to growing organizations through improved systems, operational efficiencies, restructuring and acquisitions.

Speaking of Agriculture 4.0, Ian says “As technology investments increase in agriculture space, so does the data that is produced by these investments.  Leaning now to manage and leverage that data is going to be critical in getting the desired return on the investments made.”

To address these challenges, we have developed AG 4.0 workshop, a programme designed around bringing key stakeholders from throughout US agriculture together to tackle the most issues in relation to the stability of the market. To find out how this will be achieved, and whether you can be involved in this, follow the link here and below:


Challenge Advisory is bringing together AG 4.0, a unique workshop where organisations will have the ability to network amongst each other for precise and profitable resolutions across the entire industry. There will be panel discussions and workshop sessions designed to create partnerships and profitable business development, helping to find cross-specialism solutions to current sectoral challenges.

Join Challenge Advisory and all our stakeholders for education, interoperability and investment relating to the latest technology in digital agriculture – click here to find out more:

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Savan Patel

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