R&D is everywhere in tablegrape production
Research inputs to successful tablegrape production can be seen across the board, according to Robinvale grower Bruno Constantino. In addition to a better understanding of soil and water, and improved irrigation practices, he says, science can be found in better rootstocks and budwood, as well as disease resistance.
“As irrigators we benefit from being able to get more from the same amount of water and science has been behind this,” he said.
There is also appreciation of the ongoing management support that comes through information provided by bodies like the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, which conducts workshops and provides weekly evaporation graphs, and the Bureau of Meteorology whose website provides forecasting of data that will indicate vine water needs.
Knowing evaporation losses and plant water requirements at different growth stages now and a week or two ahead helps refine management. Irrigation management can basically be about replacing water that is used or lost each day, with the aim to keep losses to the unavoidable evaporation component and not losses past the root zone.
A major advantage of switching to drip irrigation four years ago is the even and immediate distribution of water and finer control over applications to suit vine demand. This compares with furrow irrigation which, because of the time taken for water to get down the row meant one end would have excessive water and the other much less, causing differences in ripening and production.
Bruno, however, believes that whatever the system there can be improvements. With drip, for instance, there is a need to carefully plan and monitor applications and to use the forecasts so that the vine is not caught short with a spate of extremely hot weather. Just as there are some furrow and sprinkler irrigators who do better than others using the same system because they have been able to reduce running times or make other improvements, there are no doubt some drip irrigators who can get better results than others.
It is not possible to pinpoint one piece of research or management which works best for everyone.
“Not one single thing can be the reason for improvement in irrigation efficiency, for example,” Bruno said. “But it is important to think about the effects of anything that is done. For example, we knew that we didn’t need the deep-rooted rootstocks that suited flood irrigation when we switched to drip so we now have the roots in a shallower depth of good sandy loam and keep the water to less soil depth.”
One thing that is very important to Bruno and his brand Grapeco is understanding what the consumer wants and working back from there.
“Everything we do, from irrigation to packing, is about getting crisp, fresh fruit to customers,” he said.
On his 30 hectares he grows Flame Seedless, Menindie Seedless, Sultanas, Crimson Seedless and Red Globe, stretching across a season that can last from early January to mid April.