Government funding announced for 'game changing' research into yield predictions for wine industry

New research will help growers predict their yields more accurately, which will help companies balance their grape ...
PHOTO: FAIRFAX NZ

New research will help growers predict their yields more accurately, which will help companies balance their grape supply and demand.

"Game changing" new research into yield predictions will help the Marlborough wine industry better balance supply and demand.

The Government has announced $6 million of funding for a five-year long research programme, led by Lincoln Agritech with co-funding from New Zealand Winegrowers.

Lincoln Agritech chief executive Peter Barrowclough said the research into yield prediction would be a game changer that would allow growers to predict their crop size with far greater accuracy.

"The game-changing innovation will be that growers can accurately assess differences in yield not only between regions or vineyards, but with new sensor technologies, they will also be able to assess differences between blocks and rows," he said.

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"Over the long term, site-specific yield prediction will help reduce costs by enabling better planning both in the vineyard and in market."

Project leader Armin Werner said two sensors would be used, one to compute visual flowers and berries and the other using long-form wave lengths to find those obscured by leaves.

The data would be fed into a modelling system, that took into account vine variability and weather data to give growers more accurate yield predictions.

Werner said when the research was completed he envisaged manufacturers producing devices that would be taken up by growers and contractors to predict their yields.

New Zealand Winegrowers general manager of research and innovation Dr Simon Hooker said yield predictions were crucial for winery logistics, grower profitability and balancing supply and demand.

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At present, predictions were carried out throughout the year to give growers a greater idea of the crop size, but it was difficult to do this accurately, Hooker said.

"To get accurate measurements may take a lot of effort because you might not be able to do enough sub-samples, so we're hoping the research will be able to quickly and effectively measure yields at different times of the year," he said.

At present, growers can estimate their potential yields more than a year in advance by measuring average temperature during bunch initiation the season beforehand, around December and January.

Caythorpe Family Estate owner Simon Bishell said having good yield predictions allowed growers to adjust their vineyard practices to meet demand.

"It's incredibly important because it's the pruning the winter prior that sets up the vine for maximum yield, you can take grapes off but you can't put them on again," he said.

If growers and wine companies knew it wasn't going to be a fruitful season, they could leave more buds on during pruning to make sure they had enough grapes.

Bishell said the reason grape prices dropped in 2009 was partly due to growers not adjusting their pruning in response to predicted large yields the previous three years.

"People didn't adjust their vines for the extra fruitful years, so we had a supply and demand issue and before we knew it the prices dropped through the floor," he said.

"It's really important to try and get some idea of how big the vintage will be, so you can try and match your supply with product demand."

Hooker said the research was being funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Endeavour Fund.

He was also expecting another funding announcement soon, relating to a proposed Regional Research Institute to create a wine research hub, provisionally called the New Zealand Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology, at the Marlborough Research Centre.

"I'm hoping that we'll hear, one way or another, from the Government in the very near future, within the next week hopefully," Hooker said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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