More (app) power for viticulturists

More hi-tech help is here for Australia’s viticulturists. Two free apps developed at the University of Adelaide will soon be available to download for use on smartphones and other portable devices.

VitiCanopy, which allows users to obtain canopy architectural parameters for grapevines using cover digital photography and automated analysis, is now available for Apple devices in the App Store, with an android version to follow soon. There’s also an instructional video on YouTube (search for VitiCanopy).

PMapp, which will help growers, consultants, wineries and researchers to assess powdery mildew on grape bunches, is scheduled for release during November. An Apple version will be accessed via the App Store and an android version from the Google Play store.

The PMapp initiative, a Wine Australia project that we featured in the February edition of RD&E News, has been supported by a number of wine companies and is part of a broader project at the university seeking to establish objective measures for assessing powdery mildew.

‘While our primary focus is on developing objective molecular and spectroscopic measures for powdery mildew, we all acknowledge that assessing disease visually in the field, and sometimes also at the winery, is going to be with us for some time’, said Prof Eileen Scott, Deputy Head of the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

‘The aim was to create a simple tool that will allow assessors to capture information more accurately and efficiently in the vineyard and improve their disease assessment skills.’

The prototype app was released for trial soon after the February edition of RD&E News and, following feedback, a number of enhancements have been made for general release. One of these is the inclusion of a diagrammatic assessment key to help commercial users differentiate increments in powdery mildew severity in the low range.

The VitiCanopy app is part of a much larger Wine Australia project being carried out at the University of Adelaide, in this case in collaboration with the University of Melbourne and with support from Treasury Wine Estates and DJs Growers. The leaders are Chief Investigator Dr Cassandra Collins and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Roberta De Bei.

Dr De Bei said the app was just ‘the first part of the toolkit’ the team wanted to develop. ‘It looks at structure and vigour of the canopy and allows you to calculate some measures that are used to decide if the vine is in balance or not’, she said.

The key is algorithms originally developed in the forestry industry that can analyse a photograph you have taken and provide details such as leaf area index and canopy porosity. However, the code in its basic form was too difficult and expensive for practical use.

‘The challenge was getting code that’s been written for complex, expensive software and putting it into an iPhone or iPad that is easy to use and with us every day’, Dr De Bei said.

While this work has been going on, others in the research team have been looking at where such a tool can be used to best effect in assessing quality in terms of canopy measurements.