FruitLook offers bigger picture

by | Nov 1, 2016 | Winetech Technical, Viticulture research

FruitLook is increasingly gaining traction from local users. We asked producers how they use and integrate it with other technologies and information. Producers are embracing various new-generation tools to better understand their block and orchard development.

FruitLook employs satellite remote sensing and this is becoming increasingly popular. This online tool has been tailor-made for local use. It offers a unique view on different aspects of a block or orchard, including water use and crop production. This is possible thanks to FruitLook’s ability to collate useful information that is not always visible to the naked eye.

FruitLook’s data is made available in the form of a range of user-friendly maps of production units and can be used by the producer in many ways. See graphic for examples. Producers can, for instance, use it to monitor growth differences in their production units by using FruitLook’s indicators on biomass production over time. It can also be used to decide where to place soil moisture probes and even to harvest selectively.

“Each one of FruitLook’s data sets (on growth, water use and nitrogen) shows a different picture and provides insights on your block,” explains independent researcher Dr. Caren Jarmain. “The more picture elements available, the more comprehensive the puzzle that can be built with it.”

As part of FruitLook’s dataservice to producers, it is now also possible to automatically let them know if the satellites detect huge differences in blocks compared with the “normal” picture. This electronic “watchdog” feature that automatically alerts producers of such changes via email, is called FruitSupport.

A healthy vineyard-block will look rather uniform throughout the season when it comes to FruitLook’s growth indicators. If this picture changes suddenly, it can be because of pests, water stresses and other issues related to crop-growth in the block. “This enables producers to adjust their management decisions or if there is a problem to correct it to ensure optimal growth in the block,” says Jarmain.

Nigel Cook, a consultant from Prophyta, considers FruitLook a handy tool when it comes to irrigation scheduling. “FruitLook offers an independent tool to measure what is happening in the block and can inform decisions on scheduling.” Cook adds to this: “Before FruitLook was available, it was much more difficult for a producer to get a bird’s eye view of a block or a farm. You can compare it with someone playing golf without a scorecard. FruitLook is also not only useful in-season, but to look back on a season to see how well you fared (from a management perspective).”

He believes it is really important to consider soil conditions when making decisions on irrigation scheduling on a farm. Integrating this information with FruitLook’s water indicators provides unique farm-based intelligence.

Dr. Albert Strever, a viticulturist from Stellenbosch University, considers FruitLook a valuable tool for producers, especially when it is integrated with other technologies. The difference in the growth of areas in a block can, for instance, be useful to provide information on its management, given that variations are often linked to soil differences related to water and growth. “It can be used to assess resource use on farms and make it more efficient if possible,” he says. “It, however, depends on the readiness of a producer or consultant to interpret and/or apply the data that is being generated,” he says.

Strever is involved in a research project on how FruitLook can be used to do yield projections. The team, with Jarmain as its project leader, is looking at phenological, as well as yield data and employs statistical and machine learning techniques for this. The project employs both statistical analysis and machine learning to discover relationships between remote sensing data and yield data, in order to model yield in future.

FruitLook’s unique datasets can also be used in combination with other technologies and information, for instance, when it comes to soil moisture samples.

Tiaan Snyman, a soil scientist from Agrimotion, says this process of integration can yield interesting information for producers. “If a soil moisture probe, for instance, shows the soil is dry and we see that the orchard or block is using water in a less efficient way, we can say with certainty that this is due to under-irrigation. The more data we integrate, the better our answers and recommendations. “Growth differences in blocks often indicate soil differences and soil samples are therefore taken in different areas,” he says. “FruitLook, along with soil and plant samples allows us to compile a comprehensive picture.”

He considers FruitLook a very efficient tool to understand variation in a block. “Consider data from a warm week in December, for instance. FruitLook’s indicators on how efficient water is used, as well as what type of variation is visible along with soil moisture meters will provide the most representative measurement.”

Distell has been using FruitLook in season in combination with measurements on optimal ripeness. At Plaisir de Merle (near Franschhoek), grape samples were taken at different places in the blocks based on growth differences established with FruitLook. They tried to harvest the grapes separately in different blocks where possible. Distell aimed at harvesting a block as soon as the Maselli index indicated that the grapes were optimally ripe. Their blocks are generally homogeneous, but sometimes strong and weak growth areas are evident. They want to experiment with making different wines from this separately harvested grapes and to establish how growth differences affect wine quality for different cultivars.

Dirk Sutherland from Omnia says FruitLook is also very useful to identify weak areas in blocks when it comes to soil health, if used together with other applications and measurements. “It is becoming increasingly important to evaluate soil health. We combine a physical, chemical and biological assessment to determine why growth in a certain area is weak and compare it with assessments from better sections in the block.

He marks these “weak spots” with GPS and combines it with other applications used by Omnia. It is very interesting how soil life differs between the weak spots and the better ones, he says. In this experience FruitLook helps a lot to take accurate samples with much less effort when it comes to applying fertilisers in general. It also gives you an idea of how water moves through the block.

He uses FruitLook to identify two GPS points per block that he considers as being representative when he does his sampling. This enables him to revisit the same places next year to do follow-up measurements. “This enables me to say with greater certainty whether or not the fertiliser programme I employed worked or not, seeing that my sampling can be standardised.”

Sutherland believes FruitLook’s technology, also when integrated with other technology and information, enables farmers to manage water, fertilisers and pest control in an economically more sustainable manner. “I believe FruitLook will enable producers to micro-manage on a bigger scale.”

When it is used in collaboration with other technologies and information that producers have access to, including their current knowledge of their farm and production units, it also unlocks more possibilities to use and manage available resources more efficiently.

Snyman also adds that FruitLook is especially valuable to producers given that it is independent, available for free and also updated weekly. “It offers a fantastic way to look at a block or orchard in an entirely new way,” he says.



Caren Jarmain  or Ruben Goudriaan


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