Originally written by Lindsay Eason for Orchard & Vine Fall Issue 2016 (September 28, 2016)

It’s not very often that I come across a new technology that is literally the best solution I have seen to many current agricultural issues. Green Tourism member 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery, located on Vancouver Island in the Comox Valley, has just proven how invaluable this new technology is by saving $11,000 over the past four months.

This groundbreaking technology was installed on a drone to take super-high definition images of the 20-acre vineyard. Drones are more cost effective than helicopters (or fixed wing aircraft), make no noise, are environmentally friendly (electric) and stay lower to the ground, avoiding air traffic airspace.

Layne Craig, owner of 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery saw the bigger picture. He calls himself a semi-automatic farmer, using field studies and handwriting to track what works best for his vineyard. But the data he received complimented his own methods, giving him measurable statistics for:

• How healthy and vigorous the vines are (measuring chlorophyll in an ENDVI chart)
• Plant height comparisons
• Soil moisture content
• Land slope and elevation
• High definition images of the property

Here’s what 40 Knots saved in the past 4 months:

Water use slashed by 7/8’s compared to 2015
By looking at the moisture content map, Layne  realized that areas with high growth needed their watering cut completely, while other drier areas needed additional moisture. In other words, using drip irrigation, he only watered exactly where he needed to, cutting his consumption from 9000 m3 in 2015 to 800 m3 in 2016.

Fertilizers reduced by 30-35%
Craig works closely with Biofert Manufacturing Inc. to source only non-synthetic fertilizer applications for his vineyard. He adjusted his program to use the data provided, which allowed him to hone in on dry and less productive areas to apply compost and an organic granular fertilizer just to the areas that needed it. This “spot treatment” rather than blanket application cut his fertilizer use by nearly 35%. Next year, Craig is moving to a liquid fish/kelp fertigation application, hoping to further reduce fertilizer use by an additional 40%.

60% savings in pesticides and fungicides
40 Knots has converted all fungicides and pesticides to 100% organic, using only micronized sulphur, calcium, potassium bicarbonate and dish soap. Craig has radically reduced his costs by ordering these in a raw form directly from Biofert, and by growing well balanced and healthy plants, he is able to stay on top of any issues as they arise, reducing consumption. All these measures have resulted in a cost savings of 60% this year compared to 2015.

Crop increase of 41%
Making these changes has boosted crop production by over 40%. Even with the spring storms that reduced flowering in the white varieties and even with the sheep getting loose and deciding to munch on grapes (I could see the effects of this in the plant growth chart), crop production nearly doubled. Craig has used the data to grow a crop balanced in nutrients and water, producing more grapes with less foliage. Some crops, like Gamay, increased from 2.3 tonnes per acre to 6.3 tonnes per acre.