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By November 20, 2017 0 Comments Read More →

Visionaries in Wine Grape Irrigation Forecasting Earn WINnovation Award

By Dawn Dolan

Tule Technologies has won Wine Industry Network’s WINnovation Award for 2017 with their FieldStat Water Stress Forecasts. Their innovative approach uses collected data to forecast outcomes of theoretical water applications, and has brought precision watering to a higher plane.  This new level was immediately recognized by winemaker for Chateau Montelena, Matt Crafton, who nominated them for the award.

In Crafton’s submission, he cites “Tule’s new water stress forecasts tell me the number of days until I need to irrigate and the influence of my irrigation applications on the future water stress of the plants. The forecast product is a breakthrough innovation in grape and wine production.”

Says George Christie, President of Wine Industry Network, “We are really excited to be seeing such innovative experimentation leading to products in our industry that can make a real difference. We think Tule’s new product is at the cutting edge of that.”

According to Tule’s website, this product helps the grower develop a site-specific understanding of the vine water-relations of each block by showing how the water stress level of the vines are responding to irrigation, rainfall, and evapotranspiration. The grower can make irrigation decisions based on projections, and can then set water stress and grape quality targets, block by block.

The x-axis is time on a daily timestep. The vertical blue bars are irrigation events and vertical white bars are irrigation recommendations, for which the values are represented on the righthand y-axis. The lefthand y-axis is the water stress level from 100% (no water stress) to 0% (desiccation). The teal band is the grower-designated target water stress band. The solid and dotted blue line is the FieldStat Water Stress in the past. The dashed and dotted blue line is the forecast FieldStat Water Stress.

Tule is a new company, launched in 2014 with Tule ET sensors. Evapotranspiration (ET) is the process of evaporation from plant and soil surfaces, and from within plant tissues. The sensors measure how much water the plants used over a broad area, yesterday. Shapland notes, “Now we are forecasting. That is the innovation. The ability to see into the future.”

Shapland goes on, “The challenge for winemakers is that every block is different. They each dry down at a different pace, and may have different cultivars, root stock, rooting depth–all can differ from one block to another. All these items influence how much water each block will need.” The idea has been that previously, farmers could go out in the field and get a sense of the water status, albeit from yesterday.

Shapland continues, “In the past we’d tell our growers how the plants did the day before. Now it’s unique and powerful to understand whether or not your site dries out slowly, quickly, and what might be the differences between your blocks. This technology uses a site-specific model. It is used to forecast what will happen. It is accurate for specific sites, and then becomes even better over time.”

The Chateau Montelena team is pleased with the new technology, which rolled out mid-summer. Crafton says, “The forecasts help me characterize the site-specific understanding of the vine water-relations of each block. The new product has helped our team to make more confident irrigation decisions. My organization and I were better equipped to achieve our water stress targets and grape quality targets in our diverse set of vineyards. The feature is based on really innovative and technically complex science.”

Shapland notes that the FieldStat Water Stress Forecasts is layered on top of their main product, and they offered a beta release of it to all of their current clients starting in early July. Of their roughly 750 California vineyards they work with, 90% are taking advantage of this newest technology.

“Our current plan is to continue to improve the forecast accuracy. We’d like to increase amount of time in season, in grape production, that we can provide the forecast. We will be moving to other crops in CA”, he says.  “We are excited about this. Not just that we can forecast the future water scenario, but we can show you what will happen if you put on [irrigation] four hours vs eight hours. We can help you make a better product.” Currently this product is only available in California.

WINnovation Awards are conferred to recognize companies that develop ground-breaking products or practices, and make positive contributions toward the advancement of the North American wine industry. Showing off the most innovative industry suppliers and service professionals, the goal of this award is to celebrate the spirit of creativity and leadership. The awards reception takes place November 28, at the Hyatt in Santa Rosa.

Tule Technologies will be presenting their FieldStat Water Stress Forecasts at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo, Nov. 30, 2017, as well as at Unified Wine Grape Symposium, 2018.

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