Oxygenation and octo-copters in Murray Valley research mix

The technical and the high-tech are on the research agenda for Murray Valley Winegrowers Inc (MVWI) in the year ahead.

With water use efficiency a key priority for the region’s growers, there will be a focus on ongoing projects looking at the potential for oxygenation to improve marginal soils and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) technology to provide better vineyard monitoring.

‘We’re interested in anything that can help growers effectively utilise water better, whether it be through the use of silicone products for the shielding of vines against sunburn or trying to increase the oxygen levels in water’, said new Industry Development Officer David Coombes.

‘The oxygenation project is now in its third year and producing good results. We have some pretty marginal soils in this area and with continual watering during summer heatwaves it’s reducing oxygen levels in the soil profile resulting in soils becoming anaerobic. We’re trying to ascertain whether oxygen input into the irrigation water can increase oxygen levels in soil.’

Available oxygen in the soil is important for microbes and plant growth.

Mr Coombes, who’s Mildura born and bred, joined MVWI three months ago from Pernod Ricard Winemakers, after a career that has also included work in the citrus, table grape and stone fruit industries. He believes much of the current research, especially with the use of UAV technology, will have applications for other crops, as well as in other wine regions.

The work with UAVs began last year in partnership with the University of Melbourne, which has a major project looking at vineyards of the future.

‘They have the experience and expertise in precision viticulture so they brought their octo-coptor up and started collecting imagery from several trial vineyards’, Mr Coombes said.

‘The UAV collects data looking at water stress of vines. We are running a few trials on deficit irrigation throughout the vineyards, going from 100 per cent water down to about 70 per cent to how the vines are coping through the stress period.

‘We want to help inform growers on their irrigation practices during a heatwave or when one is coming: are they overwatering; are the vines transpiring throughout a certain period of time; is there a potential saving on water or do you put water on earlier?’

UAVs have two advantages – they can pick up things that the human eye can miss at ground level, and the data is available in a day or two, rather than two weeks or more when relying on satellite technology.

This season’s project will involve a locally based precision viticulture consultant and will repeat the work of the first year, though focussing on Shiraz grapes rather than Chardonnay.

And what do MVWI members think of all this?

‘They are really embracing it. It’s vineyards for the future; what do we need to do; how do we support growers improve their irrigation practices?’

onto-copter at work