The deployment of smoke detectors in the vineyards is coming to an end


The deployment of smoke detectors in the vineyards is coming to an end

A WORLD first to help North East vineyards detect the impact of bushfire smoke will be operational before summer 2022/23.

The deployment of 100 sensors to detect the impact of smoke in the vineyards is nearing completion, with the remaining units expected to be in place by the end of June.

The world premiere in any wine region of the world is part of a project developed by a team led by Professor Ian Porter of La Trobe University.

Combined with a new phone app, it will provide winemakers with the tools to help them make early decisions about their harvest during a smoke event.

The sensors have been placed in vineyards from Rutherglen to Glenrowan and across the King and Alpine Valleys, with the final sensors heading east in the coming days to locations in the Mount Beauty Valley.

COVID delays, global material shortages and extreme weather threatened to derail the project, but Professor Porter said they had met their June deadline.

“It’s incredibly exciting to get them out, but it’s been a huge task to do it,” he said.

“A six-month delay on parts due to supply chain issues and massive price escalations left us worried we couldn’t deliver, but we managed to get them built, evaluated, accredited and released. .”

Professor Porter estimates that it took over 300 hours to install all the sensors at the sites, including coordinating remote access and Wi-Fi with growers.

But he said fixing the issues will improve industry-wide communication, with the sensors themselves being designed to be durable and withstand failure.

“The most important part is to make the material available and fully operational, with training to follow on how to use the information they collect,” he said.

Wine Industry Smoke Detectors (known as ‘WISD’) will do more than just detect smoke – they also have the ability to measure air temperature and humidity, with adaptability to connect other sensors to gauge things like soil moisture, soil temperature, and solar hours. .

Prof Porter said three weeks of extremely bad weather proved fortuitous, allowing the team to test the ability of the collectors’ solar panels in limited light.

“We wanted to see if the solar panels would face a downtime, because during the catastrophic bushfires there would also be no light, so we decided to increase the capacity of the solar input – bad weather turned out to be a blessing,” he said.

“Despite all the constraints we have faced, they will be released at the end of June, which will leave another six months to train producers in their use before the 2022/23 production season. »

Professor Porter said that although installing the hardware was essential to get the job done, the bulk of the project was to compile all the data into a format to provide an accurate real-time smoke odor risk assessment. , based on factors such as grape variety, distance from the burn, smoke exposure time, and volume of fresh smoke.

He said those factors were all factored into the risk assessment – ​​the really powerful part – and it took eight years to put them in place and they continue to be developed.

“Primarily, it will indicate whether producers should be concerned about the level of smoke and in heavy smoke conditions whether grape testing or some form of wine mitigation method is required,” he said. declared.

“Most importantly, growers will save money at all times – when there is too little smoke to cause an impact and testing is not needed at the other extreme when large amounts of smoke are forecast will allow growers to make more accurate decisions on whether to harvest a crop and whether to invest any necessary associated costs,” he said.

“It will prevent a lot of stress and panic in times of low and extreme smoke.”

Development of the sensor was funded by grants received from the North East Wine Zone (NEWZ) representing the Alpine Valley, King Valley, Glenrowan, Beechworth and Rutherglen wine regions.

It includes an $870,000 Regional Economic Stimulus and Resilience grant from the Federal and Victorian governments received by Wines of the King Valley, following the 2020/2021 bushfires, with co-investment from La Trobe and Wine Australia.

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