Tuesday, 11 December 2018 12:33

Technologies for our industry

Written by  Dr Mark Eltom
Smart machines for weed control and beyond – Blue River Technology. Smart machines for weed control and beyond – Blue River Technology.

At this years’ Bragato, we heard how technology will shape the future of our industry.

While its clear new technologies are coming at us, it is important that these technology companies examine the issues our industry is facing, then design their technology as part of the solution. What’s clear is that there is a convergence of technologies, quickly bringing previously different operations and systems together.

Growth in export value/volume and more land being planted gives us exciting opportunities to look at profitability. In fact, with the average price per litre export value decreasing since 2003 ($10.4/L to $6.6/L), improving production methods, getting more out of existing resources and adding more value to our wines becomes increasingly important.

Below are a few (brief) opportunities that have come from various chats with growers and winemakers around New Zealand, and where technology has the potential to help. In brackets are examples of companies working in that space that might be worth a chat with.

As always, keen to hear from you on what issues are at the top of your mind and what technology you’d like to see developed.


The number of passes we take in our vineyards per season has increased, and is, in part leading us away from using less chemistry. At the top of the list is “see and spray technology”, targeting weeds undervine instead of a band every pass (Blue River Technology, WEED-it). A close second is variable rate spraying, automatically sensing and optimising for canopy density and row spacing.

While there is the demand for a fully autonomous mower, there appears to be none available to us off the shelf for vineyard use. A logical first step would then be putting a self-driving unit on existing tractors (Trimble, Bear Flag Robotics), helping to get more out of our existing equipment.

Despite divergent views on how much, and when, to apply water to our vines, a real-time measurement of our vines water status would help to make better decisions (Saturas). Satellite and drone technology is currently in use to determine water stress in vines and inform irrigation regimes (IBM and E&J Gallo collaboration) but has yet to be utilised in our vineyards.

Looking for self-driving robots for horticulture? Already here in kiwifruit orchards (Acuris, Robotics Plus). Acuris maps yield density for kiwifruit. Robotics Plus is accurately pollinating and robotically picking kiwifruit.

Vision systems, using normal cameras, microwaves and hyperspectral imaging are in development to tell us more about our yield, diseases and viruses (American Robotics, NZW/Lincoln Agritech, PFR, Callaghan Innovation). These systems can see what our eyes can’t, with the potential for information management practices.

Trunk bud rubbing is not a sexy topic, but it does cost our industry around $17 million a year to manage. The goal would be to spray (or wrap) on an organic, biodegradable polymer around the trunk that could last a number of years. Talk to John van der Linden at Villa Maria about this, and other ways our future vineyards could be designed.

Advances in technology also needs to address our consumer. More and more consumers want a product that is good for them, good for environment and want to know exactly what is in it. How will our wineries meet this increasing demand? Providing the right information to the consumer at the right time may be solved by blockchain technologies, however, these systems are not perfect and rely on accurate data being entered. To understand precisely how consumers experience our wines, we will soon be able to turn to biosensor technologies (Aromyx, MyDx, Prospect Bio, Aryballe). Virtual and augmented reality will then tell our stories of provenance to consumers (Conical, Project Nourished). This may be followed by machine learning and trained artificial intelligence, measuring the consumer emotional reactions to recommend the idea wine (Soul Machine, Wine-searcher). These technologies will not replace the extraordinary job our wineries, marketing and sales team are doing around the globe; it will just add another way to reach our consumers.

Finally, low or no alcohol beverages are on the rise both in New Zealand and abroad. AB InBev is planning for 20% of their sale volumes coming from this category by 2025 (currently at 8%). The NZW lighter alcohol wine programme is making strides in this area, as well as others (Heineken, Budweiser, Diagio/Seedlip, Pernod/Ceder’s).


At Callaghan Innovation, we help co-fund your R&D ideas and connect you to the experts that can help. Also, check with NZW as to your levy funded R&D programme, and with the many talented scientists at our CRIs across NZ (Plant and Food, Ag Research etc.). 

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