Firm probes water-use efficiencies

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 14:24 26/02/2013
Jim Mercer
Derek Flynn

Meter reader: Jim Mercer, of Fruition Horticulture Marlborough, uses a neutron probe to measure soil moisture levels at vineyard in Renwick. The company is an entrant in the 2013 Marlborough Environmental Awards. Award winners will be announced during an awards dinner at the Marlborough Convention Centre in Blenheim on Friday.

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A Marlborough horticulture company specialising in irrigation advice for grape growers and wineries around the region has helped its clients use less water for irrigation than other grape producers.

Fruition Horticulture Marlborough, based out of an office at Primac Horticulture, Old Renwick Rd, Blenheim, monitors soil moisture levels at 325 vineyard sites in Marlborough, which includes those of about 70 wine companies.

Fruition Horticulture Marlborough business manager Jim Mercer said its service provided individualised information determining the amount of irrigation growers required for their vines.

Information on soil moisture levels was gleaned via a neutron probe that measured to a depth of 1.2m, as most root activity occurred at the top soil level, Mr Mercer said.

The probe was placed inside aluminium tubes installed in vine rows at a site usually agreed by the horticulture company and grower. A company technician would then visit the site once a week to read the soil moisture levels at different depths.

The data was then loaded into Probe for Windows software, further developed by the company for the specialist service.

"The probe is not a new piece of technology. All the development has been in the Australian-designed software we've worked with to create our own version," Mr Mercer said.

Other information such as rainfall, collected in a rain gauge at the site, was collated alongside the soil moisture levels for a final weekly report that told the grower how much irrigation they needed.

Marlborough soils included anything from pea gravel, to sand, silt or clay, Mr Mercer said.

The amount of irrigation required depended on an array of variables such as rainfall, weather, and fruit, soil and root stock types as well as what the client wanted to achieve. "It's not a blueprint, it's not a description - it's relating what we're seeing in the vineyard and using it as a management tool," Mr Mercer said.

"We're a commercial company offering a service to enable growers to use their water as efficiently as possible.

"It costs them money to pump the water, so if they can save it, they also save money on power."

Staff at Fruition Horticulture had already seen the good results for the region, with clients making significant savings in water, power and nutrients, Mr Mercer said.

In an independent survey by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand for the 2011-2012 season, Marlborough grape growers who enlisted Fruition Horticulture to measure soil moisture levels at their vineyards used an average of 75mm irrigation compared to 94mm for other grape growers in the region.

"Our clients used 20 per cent less water than other growers in the industry in Marlborough," Mr Mercer said.

In 2010-11, Fruition Horticulture Marlborough clients used 94mm water, compared to 121mm for other Marlborough grape growers.

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