AgTech Advancements Powering Vineyard Innovations

person holding cell phone up to grape cluster

By: Josh Mickolio – DigiKey

  For a long time, wineries have used technology to produce excellent wine. These technologies include tank sensors that offer real-time data on oxygen levels, temperature and sugar content. As wine regions face challenges like labor shortages, increasing temperatures, wildfires and drought, some winemakers are looking towards smarter technology to secure their future.

  Modern vineyard owners are increasingly turning to agriculture technology (AgTech) solutions to help keep up with the pace of global wine demand. A wide variety of factors have made the grape growing job more complex and challenging, along with climate change and labor shortages, rising costs and a decreased interest in viticulture as a career. Digital tools for monitoring soil health, weather patterns and grapevine vitality are a necessity for modern vineyard operators.

  Advancements in AgTech are responsible for smarter harvesting, the electrification of equipment and better data collection in order to make more informed decisions. Plus, advances in global connectivity have improved data communication speeds, even in extremely rural or hillside locations where vineyards are often located.

  One of the AgTech solutions that is picking up a great deal of steam is precision agriculture, which relies heavily on technology to more accurately and efficiently complete winery tasks. To better understand vineyards through data, wineries are installing weather stations, soil moisture and temperature sensors and flying drones with infrared technology to gauge the health of their vines.

person with drones flying in vineyard

Improved sensor technology ultimately leads to better, more precise results for growers, including better equipment positioning and monitoring.

  Viticulture requires a great deal of energy and resources, and precision agriculture aims to use that energy and those resources more effectively and efficiently for the betterment of all. Modern wineries rely on technology to elevate the art of grape growing with automated and sustainable solutions.

Technology Enables Evolution

  The transition from traditional practices to a more modern approach has become more than necessary for vineyard operators. With the global wine market projected to reach over 450 billion by 2028, staying competitive in this industry requires an equal blend of tradition and technological innovation. While most grape growers and vineyard staff do the cultivation work like pruning or leafing by hand, the data and new technologies help them know which plants need special attention.

  Over the following decades, connectivity solutions have continued to improve, enabling faster data transfer for both cloud and edge computing globally. Additionally, the capabilities of autonomous solutions have accelerated in recent years, such as improvements in optics processing, the growth of artificial intelligence and the introduction of solid-state LiDAR—all of which add up to advancements for precision agriculture.

  In order to realize its full potential, precision agriculture requires a robust foundation, which often means a deep well of data points. That data is collected and measured by a wide variety of hardware and software solutions.

  Today, sensors are one of the most heavily used hardware solutions in agriculture – they are essential to gathering data to inform decision-making. These sensors are incredibly rugged and able to withstand many environmental factors such as high and low temperatures, extreme weather, chemical exposure, dirt, vibration, animals and much more.

  Also, the sensors used in most agriculture equipment are not only designed for wear and tear but in terms of equipment design, they are typically well-protected and hidden in hard-to-disturb places.

  Improved sensor technology ultimately leads to better, more precise results for vineyard owners, such as better equipment positioning and monitoring, better moisture and sunlight detection and much more.

Reaping the Benefits

  The search for vineyard efficiency has produced a wide range of systems and techniques in recent years. Sensor technology can help wineries function effectively and efficiently by providing real-time data on vineyard conditions.

sensor at use in vineyard

  Sensors are among the most heavily used hardware solutions in ag settings – they are essential to gathering data to inform decision-making.

Some of the most commonly used applications of sensor technology in vineyards include:

•   Soil moisture: Measures water levels to prevent overwatering/underwatering.

•   Temperature and humidity: Providing climate information to optimize growing conditions.

•   Sunlight exposure: Measuring sunlight vines receive to optimize grape maturation.

•   Spectral imaging: Captures and analyzes reflected light from plants to provide information about their health.

•   Early warning systems: Monitor wind speed, leaf wetness and rainfall to sense and communicate disease risk.

  As technology continues to scale and evolve toward precision and adaptability, vineyard owners will reap the rewards, which range from increased land productivity to less reliance on manual labor and staffing, as well as positive environmental impacts from using fewer inputs.

The Future of AgTech

  The modern viticulture industry is tasked with creating more wine while reducing environmental impacts and navigating labor shortages. Advanced technology solutions can help vineyard owners and staff automate the critical processes crucial to reaching the scalability needed to satisfy demand.

  Of course, implementing new technology can come with its own set of challenges. To enable mass adoption of precision agriculture, technology providers must be prepared to scale solutions easily and cost-effectively across the globe, and connectivity solutions must continue to improve in order to enable real-time processing and analysis. 

  Many different precision agriculture and viticulture technologies have applications in the vineyard, such as global positioning systems (GPS), robotics, airborne remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), digital elevation models (DEM), high-resolution soil surveys, wireless sensor networks and more.

  In an industry already facing financial pressures for an inconsistent and costly labor supply, the good news is many entry-level sensors and networking equipment costs are relatively low compared to what was available only a few years ago. The financial barrier to entry is also helped by eliminating or reducing costs in many areas, such as purchasing fewer chemicals and avoiding waste, hiring less human labor and identifying specific plants or sections that need the most attention, saving time and effort.

  As more viticulture operations embrace technology and automation, companies like DigiKey are making solutions more accessible to engineers who are building the next generation of AgTech.

From generation to generation, technology will continue to evolve rapidly and adapt to current and future needs, improving the adoption rate of precision agriculture. Vineyard owners and grape growers alike need to adopt technology to remain competitive, especially when the technology can help solve and streamline a myriad of elements of the process.

  By focusing on farming insights and automation at the plant level, the world can not only farm better, but farm different.

  Josh Mickolio is the supplier business development manager of wireless and IoT at DigiKey. DigiKey is both the leader and continuous innovator in the high service distribution of electronic components and automation products worldwide, providing more than 15.3 million components from over 2,900 quality name-brand manufacturers. Check out Season 3 of DigiKey’s “Farm Different” video series, which highlights the future of farming and the innovations that power the next generation of global food production.

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