Precision Viticulture Takes Center Stage

Donnell Brown (right) chats with Monterey Pacific’s Andrew Parolini, Steve McIntyre and Daryn Miller (shown left to right); photo credit: Jenny Devine

By Donnell Brown

Under crisp, wind-swept blue skies on April 13, 2022, 150 people boarded three buses for a daylong tour of precision viticulture applications in California’s Salinas Valley. The sold-out event—the ASEV-NGRA Precision Viticulture Demo Day—offered insight into what’s possible today in precision grape-growing and what’s just around the corner. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned and saw at each stop.

Scheid Family Wines: Craig Winn and Jovany Cruz began the day focusing on data. Early in Scheid’s drive toward precision management, Craig explained, it became quickly apparent that data connectivity across vineyards was critical. Now, with that connectivity in place, Scheid uses in-field, real-time data from irrigation systems (Tule Technologies), sensors affixed to biocontrol drones (BioBest Solutions) and other technology solutions, all linked via HeavyConnect data hub, in a model of precision viticulture principles.

Monterey Pacific: Steve McIntyre was joined by MPI team members Doug Beck, Jeff Lehar and Daryl Salm to discuss and demo the tools they use to assess soil composition (Veris organic carbon and EC [electrical conductivity] sensor), add amendments accordingly (proprietary MPI-built GPS-guided winged ripper and compost injector), and deal, precisely, with weeds (WeedIt) and other unwanteds (GUSS [Global Unmanned Spray System]). Doug also discussed the benefits of biochar and showed samples of the “black gold.” Steve also explained the planting philosophy for MPI’s high-wire mechanized vineyards. (See related post.)

Valley Farm Management: Over lunch, Jason Smith discussed how VFM applies the concepts of precision management to operations, spanning the continuum “From Field to Workforce” (the title of his talk), including labor management and timekeeping apps, and payroll and supply systems. VFM also hosted three in-field demonstrations in its premium chardonnay vineyard. The smart machines shown included an autonomous cart from Burro, self-driving/driver-assist grape harvester from New Holland and variable-rate sprayer from John Deere.

Tanimura & Antle: Because T&A is one of the country’s largest row-crop operations, precision, mechanized solutions are key to its farming operations. At T&A headquarters, Demo Day attendees saw two AI-enabled mechanized implements from Stout Industrial Technology: the Stout Smart Cultivator and Smart Sprayer. Deployed in the specialty crops T&A grows (think lettuce and other leafy greens), they help reduce input costs for labor, sprays, etc. But the real magic is in the AI with which they can enable a precision program. As Stout’s Brent Shedd explained, the technology onboard can go beyond the simple green vs. brown analysis most smart sprayers use to zap weeds to identify the weeds it sees, or diagnose disease or nutritional deficits, and deliver management recommendations. These tools aren’t available for grape…yet. But the promise of what’s possible (and a glass of wine from the participating producers) was the perfect way to end the day.

A lot of people contributed a lot of time, attention and expertise to make the ASEV-NGRA Precision Viticulture Demo Day a success. In addition to the speakers named above, huge thanks go to:

  • Dan Howard and Jen Smalley, American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV), our partner in the event
  • NGRA and ASEV Board member Keith Striegler, E. & J. Gallo Winery
  • Natalie Collins and Jenny Devine, California Association of Winegrape Growers
  • Danielle Long, Valley Farm Management
  • Brian Antle, Tanimura & Antle

And finally, we’re grateful to the USDA-NIFA Agriculture & Food Research Initiative whose conference grant made it possible to keep the ticket price low. If you were there, thank YOU for being a part of it!

See a selection of Demo Day photos here. (A zip file will download.) Larger, high-res versions of all images are available. Photo credit: Jenny Devine.