OPINION: The role primary industries play in New Zealand’s economy has changed dramatically in the past 10 years.
From the automation of vineyard machinery to new ways to collect and analyse data, there is a constant stream of innovation available to vineyard managers and winemakers.
But Tahryn Mason, Viticulture Operations Manager at Berakah Vineyard Management and 2022 Corteva Young Viticulturist of the Year, says even for the most well-resourced operation, the cutting edge of technology needs to be carefully considered before being adopted and integrated into current processes. Tahyrn has studied the multitude of apps, software, and technologies available to vineyards, and spoke at the 2023 Grape Days about choosing the right technology to meet business goals.
He categorises vineyard technology into broad groups: precision tools that account for variances within vineyards, advanced monitoring systems like soil probes, asset management applications, and human resource tools. Each category offers unique benefits, addressing different aspects of vineyard management. One significant challenge Tahryn highlights is integrating these technologies to produce actionable data. “Understanding all the variants in the vineyard is really important, but what are you using that knowledge to do?” This question is crucial for growers, who need practical, cost-effective solutions, he says.
For many, particularly smaller operators, the cost of technology can be prohibitive. Few companies can afford to introduce every new application promising efficiencies, so tech companies must prove the value that justifies their cost, he says. “If you’ve got a reasonably robust set of master data... why would you pay a subscription fee?” Nevertheless, the granularity and comprehensive analysis now offered by many applications is crucial in making informed decisions. For example, Tahryn notes the increasingly crucial role of apps and technology in measuring water usage, aiding compliance with audits, and justifying management decisions, making it easier for leadership teams to understand vineyard trends and history.
He is optimistic about the future of technology in viticulture, particularly with the advent of autonomous machines and algorithmic learning, and envisions a future where technology can significantly reduce the need for skilled labour, a critical issue given the industry’s challenges in attracting talent.
However, he suggests carefully balancing adopting new technology and remaining grounded in practical, cost-effective methods. “There are a still a lot of small growers around the country, and the data may be less valuable to them at this stage, in terms of yielding a tangible financial return. I think as costs come down and things become more accessible, people will be more willing to integrate these things.”
One of the apps Tahryn thinks brings real value to his own work is Integrape vineyard management software. “It will do the vigour mapping and soil moisture mapping and block data. It displays it in a really cool geospatial way so you can get a birds’ eye view of block performance.” Having the database and knowledge set available means someone who knows how to interpret it can step into the role, with the knowledge they need, Tahryn says. “And they have a real willingness to try and integrate their technology with other technology in the viti sphere.”