Maximize the Benefit of New Farm Technology
We have access to technology and information as never before. Working with vineyards in Virginia, I see examples of growers that master newly available information to improve their operations; unfortunately, I also see some growers that are overwhelmed by information that is not particularly useful or representative to their farm.
Vineyards are perennial cropping systems; a distinction is necessary between the information needs during the vineyard design phase (before vines are planted) and established vineyard management (post planting). A grower will have to work harder to collect information in the design phase, i.e. soil characterization, while with an established vineyard, vines provide responses such as vine size and crop yield. Management zones or blocks are portions of the vineyard that will be managed as single units. Use information during the design phase about the site to help design management zones.
Using Information Properly
In the vineyard design phase, it is not just a matter of collecting information about a particular site, the trick is verifying then interpreting this information. You need to decide how to weigh different attributes, such as topography, soil characteristics, and weather information, with the goals of the enterprise. Using Web Soil Survey or the Geovine.org tool here in Virginia can build clear soil maps for an area of interest using soil survey information, but keep in mind that the soil survey data is coarse and requires ground-truthing. After verification, the information must be interpreted and integrated into the vineyard design.
Decisions made during this design phase have a bearing on vineyard management and production for decades, so agonizing over the details is worth it at this point.
Now, fast forward to management of an established vineyard. If vineyard design was comprehensive and vines are performing uniformly within management zones, then ongoing management of the vineyard will be straightforward. However, in many cases, there is notable variability across the management zone. Examples include variable vine size, abiotic injury (i.e. cold injury), or pest pressure. Determining the source of the variability should be a priority. The cause may be ascertained by walking the vineyard and making sense of what one observes.