The Facts on Fruits: How To Win at Wine Farming

Chenin Blanc. Chardonnay. Pinotage. Merlot. With over 3000 primary grape producers, South Africa is the 12th leading exporter of wine in the world, with a total annual trade value of $716, 915, 797. It goes without saying that wine farming is a lucrative industry - which is why you need to stay up to date with the latest technology to ensure that you stay ahead of the game. For over two decades field crop farmers have been using aerial imagery to help them better manage risk and production on their farms. Why has this been so slow to catch on in the wine farming industry?

 Boschkloof Wine Estate

Boschkloof Wine Estate

Until recently, aerial imagery for wine growers has been difficult to interpret and analyze due to between row spacing which includes the information of soil, weeds and cover crops. Now this barrier has been overcome, meaning that you are able to receive actionable data which differentiates between vine biomass and inter row space. This allows you to make better wines through taking regular aerial images to measure the impact of actions from one year to the next.

There are four ways in which Aerobotics software can help you to manage your vineyards.

Firstly, aerial imagery from Aeroview helps you to make early season management decisions. With regular high-resolution drone imagery, you’re able to discriminate vineyard areas with abnormal functioning. With our scouting mobile application, Aeroview Scout,  you’re able to plan in-field scout missions to ensure that you diagnose and correctly classify pests, diseases and areas where plant mineral assimilation is disrupted or suboptimal. Using Aeroview, which provides up to 80m above-crop imagery, you can also identify stressed and vulnerable vine areas and provide your vines with the attention they need to achieve perfect health.

Secondly, Aeroview can help you to detect problems early. Our imagery will help you to easily identify poorer performing vines, as well as vines affected by pests or diseases. Regular planned scouting missions with our app, Aeroview Scout, enable you to take this data into the field and easily diagnose problems.

Third, NDVI and fruit sampling should take place before harvest.  It’s common knowledge amongst farmers that vineyards exhibit a lot of spatial variability, impacting factors such as budding, vigor, yield, berry size and berry quality. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict final wine quality from just one of theses parameters. It’s essential that farmers take the time to make vineyard blocks more uniform, making the work of the winegrower easier. Through reducing the work of the winegrower, you can lower your management costs.

With Aerobotics software, you can identify the spatial variation in your vineyards before fruit sampling based on a health map. This allows you to focus on specific areas and make the vineyard blocks as uniform as possible. This will help you to guide the winemaker into the vineyard areas where it is most informative for them to perform berry tasting and to sample the berries prior to picking. This increases the ability to predict harvest dates and to allocate fruit to different winemaking programs.

Lastly, pruning decisions can be made like never before. It’s essential to prune more severely during the winter if an area appears to show a reduction in growth by veraison. Less growing points on the vine means that there is a better balance between leaf area development and fruit production. Using Aerobotics’ drone data through Aeroview, you are able to manage your pruning program on a per vine basis, using the per vine canopy area function.

Aerobotics can also  assist you in managing your vineyards in the early detection of grapevine leafroll disease. Grapevine leafroll disease has been recognized as a major threat to South African vineyards, and has been detected in Florida recently as well. It’s important to know that symptoms of leafroll disease differ with different cultivars. For red grape varieties, a deep red to purple discolouration occurs between the veins of the leaves in combination with the curling or ‘cupping’ of the the leaf margins. For white grape varieties, a yellow discolouration of the leaf tissue occurs in combination with the curling of the leaves. For both of these symptoms, the veins of the leaves remain green and the infected vines can easily be picked up through drone imagery or regular scouting.

Without regular scouting, mealybug can be impossible to spot. It’s absolutely essential that you plan regular scouting missions to ensure that you detect the presence of these pesky pests early. To spot mealybug, look out for oval bugs with soft, flat, segmented bodies. Although they are actually pinkish in colour, adult female mealybugs are covered in a white, waxy coating that forms the spine. These bugs excrete a sweet, sticky substance that drops on both leaves and fruit. With mealybug, you can expect a double threat in that the dew serves as a growth medium for mould, as well as attracting ants. Of course, the biggest threat of mealybugs is the fact that they act as a vector for graperoll leaf virus.

There is no doubt that wine farming can become more efficient through the use of cutting-edge farming technology. The high-resolution drone-data can signal disease and help detect spatial variation, both crucial to producing a high-quality yield. Let us help you - a partnership with Aerobotics could be the answer to keeping ahead in a competitive market. Keen to get started? Our mobile scouting  app, Aeroview Scout, is available on Apple or Android.

Take two minutes to watch a detailed overview of how Aerobotics helps to manage farms.