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AgTech Advances: Automating Irrigation and Measuring Vineyard Vigor

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Proving the value of tomorrow’s solutions in today’s vineyards

By Laurie Wachter

 

What’s new in the vineyard? One exciting area of innovation is technology that improves farming in practical ways, like automating the labor out of irrigation and measuring the success of sustainable agriculture. Solutions like these help farmers counter rising costs and climate change while actually improving agriculture’s impact on the environment.

Adam Koeppel, Co-Founder & CEO / Agrology

“In a world of climate change, wine grapes have the potential to be very climate positive,” says Adam Koeppel, CEO of Agrology. “They’re low irrigation and can be grown on land not typically used for other purposes, like rolling hills. And because it’s a long-term perennial crop, high-value growers are willing to invest in powerful interventions that improve soil health and carbon sequestration.”

Preserving a precious resource

Ryan Decker, Clos du Val Winery’s viticulturist and grower relations manager, is one of those growers. “Aside from the land itself, our most precious resource is water, especially when it comes to farming,” he says. “It’s important that people know about some of the new irrigation tools that could make their job easier.”

Ryan Decker

Decker uses two new technologies to save time and preserve water. The first, Tule Vision (now part of CropX), helps him with decision-making. Tule uses sensing technology and canopy imagery to measure moisture in the soil, evapotranspiration and plant stress, and then employs predictive AI models to develop irrigation recommendations. These inform Decker’s final decisions about how much water to apply, which he enters into the dashboard of his second tool, Lumo, to execute. “Execution is really where the rubber meets the road.”

Lumo’s Co-Founder and CEO, Devon Wright, explains that “Lumo gives the farmer confidence. You can’t have reliable automation without accountability. A system that opens and closes valves doesn’t meet the automation goal. What a farmer needs is to be confident that the right amount of water comes out without having to pay people to go make sure the pump is on and there are no leaks.” 

Measuring sustainability progress

Devon Wright

Grape growers adopting regenerative organic agriculture believe in its power to help heal the earth. Their belief addresses the concerns of eco-conscious consumers, especially younger generations, but the wine industry has lacked a way to quantify its impact. That’s beginning to change.

Caine Thompson, head of sustainability and managing director at O’Neil Vintners, has been running side-by-side five-acre test and control studies of regenerative agriculture versus their traditional methods for the past two years. They keep everything but farming methods the same, including harvesting on the same day and winemaking. O’Neill has been so happy with the case study results that what started as a 40-acre trial has now expanded to 130 acres.

Caine Thompson

Thompson explains, “We have higher juice yields because the regenerative organic canopies are significantly larger, providing more shade over the fruit in the hot Paso Robles climate, so we had less dehydration of the skins. We held winemaker panels on quarterly field days, and each time, winemakers unanimously agreed that the regenerative organic wines tasted better.”

Opening access for all

Koeppel has now taken it one step further. His predictive agriculture firm, Agrology, has developed technology that lets wineries continuously monitor and quantify how much carbon the vineyard soil is sequestering, as well as the health of its microbiome. “Farmers can tell the government and their customers how much carbon their winery sequesters per acre in the ground,” says Koeppel. “That’s how we achieve our carbon neutrality — through genuine, good-for-the-world farming.”

“The holy grail is to make regenerative farming accessible to everyone,” adds Thompson, “not just premium producers.”

Adam Koeppel will be moderating Soil Carbon Tracking: Monitor, Quantify and Report at the 11th Annual North Coast Wine Industry Expo (WIN Expo) on November 30, where he will lead a discussion with Nick Filice, grape supply manager at Silver Oak Cellars; Miguel Garcia, sustainable agriculture program manager at Napa RCD; and Ben Mackie, vineyard program manager at Napa Green, about how to monitor soil carbon sequestration.

Laurel Marcus, executive director of the California Land Stewardship Institute, will be moderating Irrigation Accountability: Cutting Edge Tech to Increase Efficiency & Lower Costs, leading a discussion about cutting-edge irrigation solutions with Ryan Decker; Taylor Jones, director of viticulture at Star Lane and Dierberg Vineyards, LLC; Ernie Wilson, customer success manager at Tule Technologies; and Devon Wright.

Four speakers will join the panel on Restoring Soil Health: Tracking Data to Prove the Impact — Mark Neal, owner of Neal Family Vineyards; Garett Long, director of agriculture at Troon Vineyard; Julian Malone, director of vineyard operations at Sea Smoke Estate Vineyard and Rita’s Crown; and Caine Thompson ― for a discussion about the measurable impact of their pioneering regenerative agriculture programs.

Learn more about this session and the upcoming WIN Expo event at wineindustryexpo.com.

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Laurie Wachter
Laurie Wachter

Laurie Wachter

Laurie developed her love of analytics and innovation while advising consumer packaged goods companies, including Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and the Altria Group, on consumer and POS data analytics and direct-to-consumer marketing. Today, she writes about the wine, food and beverage industries for a global client base from the Northern California wine country.

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