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Agritech projects ‘essential’ for UK viticulture, experts say

New data and robotics projects could bring much needed time, cost and labour savings to UK vineyard producers, according to agritech experts.

Vineyard owner Ian Beecher-Jones embarked on two agritech projects at JoJo’s vineyard in Oxfordshire to create a vineyard digital map, and on-the-ground and aerial monitoring.

The project – funded by Defra as part of their Farm Innovation Programme – will create the digital infrastructure of the vineyard, including rows, posts and vines to an accuracy of two centimetres using real time kinetic (RTK) surveying tools.

The shareable infrastructure model, based on the Australian Collabriculture project, could save producers many hours of work and cost in setting their vineyards up ready to embrace viticultural technology.

On-the-ground and aerial monitoring will be gathered by robots and drones to add a layer of data to the digital map.

The robots are being developed by agriculture robot technologists, Antobot, and drones are supplied by precision agriculture specialists Agri-EPI Centre.

The two companies say the resulting technology will be highly transferable to other row crop sectors, such as orchards and soft fruit.

Duncan Ross, business development manager crops at Agri-EPI Centre said: “When wine growers want to survey a vineyard with a robot or drone they have to do a survey and plan beforehand, which can be highly time-consuming if they have to do it for each technology they want to use.

“Creating a shareable digital twin of the vineyard should cut down the amount of time that contractors spend out in the field, saving producers and technology companies time and money.

“If growers have their own shareable digital infrastructure built to a standardised format, it can be shared with any technology company the grower would like to work with.

“[This would] reduce duplication of unnecessary onboarding and set up time every time a new technology is to be tested and tried in the vineyard or orchard.”

Marc Jones, business director at Antobot, added the project was a vital step in the adoption and acceleration of sustainable robotics in viticulture.

“The grower-owned digital infrastructure will significantly reduce the time required for agritech providers to begin operations at the vineyard resulting in lower costs for the customer and faster development and deployment of robotic applications.

“The digital-infrastructure map will provide a common understanding and ‘language’ for both growers and agritech providers ensuring that precision can be matched to reality and reducing the friction between the data outputs and user,” he said.

“Antobot will use their various robot applications during the project, such as logistics (Assist) and scouting (Insight), to ensure that the digital-infrastructure captures multiple use-case requirements and is robust in a variety of tasks and conditions.”

Ian Beecher-Jones of JoJo’s Vineyard said he expected the viticulture sector to act favourably to these projects.

“We need technology to find a way to replace the labour shortages the industry is facing by allowing a more accessible way for vineyards to embrace robotics and AI technology.

“It will hopefully allow us to find a new way of marketing vineyards to our customers through a potentially new revenue stream with consumer facing technological products and innovations.

“We cannot lose traditional wine-making skills, but any vineyard that can blend traditional with modern ways of production will be at the forefront of the industry.”


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