Tuesday, 13 February 2024 15:25

Apping into old ways of farming

Written by  Sophie Preece

New technology can enable older ways of winegrowing, says Abby Rose, who developed the Sectormentor app for her family’s farm and vineyard in Chile in 2014, as an “observation hub” for the land.

“It was impossible to keep track of everything we were learning and seeing out in the trees and vineyard,” she says. “We looked around but there really wasn’t anything on the market for a farming operation of our size and operating organically. Was this tree affected by frost last year? Is this block of vines the same one that didn’t ripen fully last year? Did the compost application on that block have any affect?”

So Abby developed an app that allowed them to scan Near Field Communication tags in the field, and record photos of how plants were pruned, record yields, and create a structured data set. “So that as soon as a land steward/manager arrives in a new context they can learn from past years and trends, beginning to understand some of the nuances of that specific context through data points and photos.”

Viticulturist Simon Gourley uses Sectormentor at Domaine Thomson in Central Otago, recording the likes of tonnage per clone, pruning weights, flower counts, and missing vines, as well as soil health indicators. “It’s basically a digital notebook that also does a lot of calculations and has interactive tools as well,” Simon says. He might have that same information stored in notebooks over the years, “but I don’t drive around with them with me”. The app allows him to create graphs and see trends over time, and to ensure he collects information on the same aspect of the operation each year. The organic vineyard is also working in regenerative viticulture, so Simon is also using the Regen Platform released within Sectormentor late last year, which allows him to record 10 Regen Indicators and benchmark the results with science, as well as other people in a similar context.

Viticulture consultant Dr David Jordan says technology like the app can make day-to-day operations more efficient and better informed for operators like Domaine Thomson and Seresin Estate in Marlborough, which also used Sectormentor. “Seresin, for example, this week has been reviewing the berry bunch count data and historic bunch weights stored on Sectormentor. Everyone in the team has access to that data and can quickly gain an impression of how this season is tracking compared to previous seasons.”

Abby says farming was historically based on a person or family building up knowledge over many years and passing that on to the next generation, but that’s rare in most vineyards now, with vineyard managers moving around between multiple sites in their career “and having to make farming decisions based on little prior knowledge of the specific context of that land.” Sectormentor is not the same as living on a piece of land your whole life, she says. “However, it brings a whole new set of layers and nuance to decision making, with many of the messages from the plants and animals stored as an asset for the vineyard or land.”

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