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Maturing vine of innovation opportunities at Wine Australia

This month marks one year since the launch of AgriFutures growAG. and it’s been a successful 12-months for the platform and its users – particularly for Wine Australia, who have been garnering significant traction and collaboration to commercialise high-value technology. 

Purple grapes on a vine
Words by Megan Woodward | Photo credit above - Jackie Cooper

Like developing the perfect drop of Shiraz, Wine Australia is working hard on getting the balance right to produce a full-bodied offering.

Under the guidance of Senior Research, Development & Adoption (RD&A) Manager Dr Paul Smith and new CEO Dr Martin Cole, the Research and Development Corporation (RDC) has made significant inroads on a number of projects and has plenty of new commercial opportunities just waiting to be picked from a maturing vine of innovation.

Wine Australia has been a great supporter of AgriFutures growAG. since its inception and CEO Dr Martin Cole reckons it’s one of the best industry connectors available to the R&D sector.

“The ability to put opportunities up into that space and to have partners come along and register interest, particularly in the agtech space, is of huge benefit,” he said.

“Essentially growAG. is an amplifier and accelerator, and as an industry, we need that ability to bring people together in the solution space to really unlock some value for our sector.

“I can see us really growing that connection to the platform and really leveraging it as we embark on this impact innovation area.”

It’s a path Martin’s colleague, Senior RD&A Manager Dr Paul Smith, has been on for decades in wine science research and he happily accepts the title of ‘growAG. super user.’

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“I’ve always been very supportive of the principle of it because right from the start it was all about supporting commercialisation as a path to adoption of research and increasing awareness of opportunities and we really needed that as an RDC,” said Paul.

“We have great connection and engagement within our own sector but they’re not necessarily the ones that will commercialise a new venture scenario.

“We are proactively pursuing commercialisation opportunities with the help of growAG. which will hopefully help us flush out partners.

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We see growAG. as a baited hook. We can push opportunities out there and advertise to an audience we don’t ordinarily engage with and see what we catch, and it’s proved to be a good strategy to date.

a dark haired woman selecting grapes from a grape vine
Photo credit: Wine Australia

New viticulture technology app

At growAG.’s launch in April 2021, Wine Australia listed a new commercialisation opportunity in the Vine Nutrition App

“This app will be able to define what nutritional deficiency exists in the vine through detecting very distinctive patterns on the leaves that indicate an issue,” explained Paul. 

“12 months ago, we were looking for a licencing partner and since that time, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) – the research partner responsible for commercialising the app – promoted a specific EOI process to find a commercial partner and we also used approaches through growAG. to support the initiative. 

“The team working on this had some very in-depth discussion with potential partners and growAG. was a key element of increasing awareness of the opportunity and it’s been a really constructive experience.” 

Paul said the collaborative effort to get the project to this stage was significant. 

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“There were many people that worked on the Vine Nutrition App to get it to this point and growAG. brought the opportunity to the attention of some potential partners,” he said. 

“It very much complements our core business, especially given the scale of potential connections and the quality of those future collaborators. 

“The Vine Nutrition App has been a satisfying project for Wine Australia to support because it’s shown that with the right support team, connections and collaborators, we can significantly increase the impact of our RD&A investments.

“The growAG. community allows us to interact with a range of different people who we had limited access to before.” 

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ProxiCrop (a low-cost thermography-based sensor device) installed in a vineyard
ProxiCrop (our low-cost thermography-based sensor device) installed in a vineyard. Photo credit: Wine Australia

Commercial opportunities available for the right partner

Fuelled by momentum, Wine Australia has a number of new commercial opportunities listed with growAG. and expect to have more listed later in 2022. 
CSIRO-led ProxiCrop is a proximal sensing device that is used to estimate vine water status by measuring the temperature of the canopy, assisting with irrigation management. 

Paul said ProxiCrop has the ability to scan the canopy as a whole across several vines uninterrupted. 

“The technology for this device has been successfully demonstrated in multiple environments and the opportunity for tech transfer and optimisation is there ready to go for the right person or company that can see the value in licensing and commercialising,” he said. 

“We’re seeking a partner that can see the business model and value proposition for industry and we’re confident we’ll find the right fit.” 

Other CSIRO-led opportunities around prediction of grape yield and composition are also looking for commercial partners, with more details on the growAG. website. 
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demonstration of the VitiCanopy app, a portable tool to assess canopy size and vineyard variability, on iphone
VitiCanopy app, a portable tool to assess canopy size and vineyard variability

Two other viticulture focused products, VitiVisor and VitiCanopy, led by the University of Adelaide (UoA) are ready for next steps, too. 

“Firstly there is VitiVisor, which is a very ambitious program that is due for completion mid-year that is an open-source information, prediction and advisory platform for viticulture,” said Paul. 

“It builds the foundation to help answer questions like, 'Should I spray next week? When will the grapes be ripe?’ Those are fundamentals of planning, and we’re ready to make the information – garnered through the project – available to anyone who wants it and we’re ready to work with a commercial partner.” 

The second UoA project developed is an image capture software system, known as VitiCanopy. 

“It’s essentially a camera that goes on to a moving vehicle or just on a phone that takes images for the purpose of gaining measurements of the canopy area and porosity,” Paul said. 

“The relevance is that the size of the canopy and structure of the canopy is important to fruit yield and quality and obviously it controls how much light gets into the fruit, and that impacts the colour and wine flavour. 

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“It’s quite a standalone package now and we anticipate that the person or company who wants it may pair it up with a few other things in a tech stack. Like an agtech company perhaps who has the technology to offer irrigation management and now want to go further in their management offering by connecting irrigation decisions to canopy effects. 

“Ultimately, we think putting these pieces together will mean that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.” 

For Wine Australia’s CEO, it’s a vision that sits neatly in his plans for the RDC. 

“Our biggest vision is to ensure that we have a sector that's profitable, resilient and sustainable into the future and ultimately, we’re focused on trying to make sure that we have the right innovation in place to make that happen.” 

You can explore Wine Australia's commercial opportunities and research projects here.

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