Integrated Tools for the Environmental Sustainability of the Vineyard

A step towards the viticulture of the future.

The SISAV project, “Strumenti Integrati per la Sostenibilità Ambientale del Vigneto” (Integrated Tools for the Environmental Sustainability of the Vineyard), is a scientific study supported by the Rural Development Programme of Piedmont Region PSR 2014-20, measure 16.1.1, which aims to provide the farmer with all the information that is necessary and helpful in order to make the best decisions, in a given area and in specific weather conditions, to implement the best vine defence against fungal diseases.

Forecasting is a key component in precision agriculture. Thanks to weather forecasts and experience, attacks by fungi, microorganisms and insects can be predicted, and irrigation, fertilisation and other agricultural practices can be planned more effectively. It is also possible to protect the crop from extraordinary weather events. In a rural environment, especially in hill, mountain or coastal areas, macroscopic forecasts are not sufficient: micro-climatic developments on a regional, municipal and even sub-municipal scale can have a significant impact, with differences of up to 10 degrees compared to the macroscopic forecast and variations in humidity of up to 40%.

Numerous partners are cooperating synergistically in the development of an innovative service based on distributed sensor networks and remote sensing observations for the wine sector aimed at optimising phytosanitary treatments. Seventeen winemakers from the Canelli area belonging to the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato, Consorzio per la tutela dell’Asti and Consorzio tutela vini d’Acqui are taking part in the project. The scientific and technical supervision is in the hands of Turin Polytechnic (iXemLabs), for the construction and installation of the agro-meteorological stations, while Turin University (with the Geo4Agri laboratory of the Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences) is responsible for the spatial analysis/modelling and remote sensing part. Two companies support the technology transfer: Allemano Metrology, in charge of calibrating the sensors developed by Turin Polytechnic; Koinè sistemi, an IT company in charge of setting up the remote IT platform for collecting, processing and displaying the data and information obtained during measurements and surveys.

The platform will allow access to data in the form of maps and graphs relating to the main agro-meteorological and phytosanitary parameters, which farmers will be able to use to calibrate the timing and method of intervention, especially at phytosanitary level. In addition to the information obtained from the RAM network provided by the weather stations in the Piedmont region, the SISAV project uses field sensors installed directly in the vineyards of the partners participating in the project. The field sensors designed by Turin Polytechnic are connected via an LP-WAN (Low Power-Wide Area Network) radio link.

This is an innovative technology used in the field of the Internet of Things, a paradigm that aims to connect not only people but also things – in this case, vineyards – to the Internet. An LP-WAN network usually consists of devices that act as sensors or actuators, such as controllers for irrigation systems, in addition to the aforementioned sensors, of course. These devices communicate with one or more receivers which, in turn, are connected to the Internet via a standard connection (Ethernet, WiFi, LTE), the purpose of which is to forward data to the cloud. The main feature of LP-WAN technologies is to allow data to be sent over huge geographical distances, even in the absence of line-of-sight between receiver and transmitter, while maintaining extremely low energy consumption. The main limitation of these systems is that only a small amount of information can be transmitted, enough, however, to transmit the data measured by the project’s sensors. The choice of technology was supported by numerous experiments in the field and in the laboratory, using prototype devices. A hardware solution was then developed, dimensioned in such a way as to be able to guarantee correct operation in the field, using two AA batteries, for a duration of at least one growing season. The data collected on energy consumption in 2021 proved the validity of the device created for the project, which turned out to have a battery life that went way beyond the end of the season. Parallel with the development of the radio device, careful research was conducted into the sensors used in the field, which were developed and incorporated into the board via a wired connection. The device uses the sensors to take a measurement every ten minutes and transmit the data, which is then available to the user, almost in real time. The sensors adopted in this first phase of the project for each of the partner wineries are the following:

  • air temperature and relative humidity
  • double-sided foliar wetting
  • rain gauge

Before the 2021 season began, the correct operation of the sensors was verified by means of field tests and tests in the laboratories of the technology partner Allemano Metrology, in terms of calibration, which is essential to ensure the reliability of the sensors over time. The successful reproducibility of a measurement under the same conditions is an important principle. The regular calibration of the sensor is necessary in order to guarantee the correct evaluation of the readings. Sensors placed in the field can undergo various types of deterioration, caused by violent weather events, chemical treatments and deposits of organic material. It is therefore necessary to ensure that measurements taken under the same conditions give consistent results over time.

In addition to the installation of the field sensors by the wineries involved, a careful study of the area covered by the project was carried out in order to create the network of receivers that would guarantee optimum coverage for the sensors installed. Surveys and radio simulations were necessary to identify the best locations, where the receivers were then positioned.

The gateways, like the sensors, are kept under control via a remote sensing network, which allows the network administrators to obtain diagnostic information and perform operations such as updating or rebooting equipment remotely. The procedures are validated by the University of Turin through spatial modelling processes, intersecting the information from the field stations with that observed remotely on an ongoing basis, using multispectral optical images provided by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite. The calibration and validation of the deductions will take place on the basis of very large-scale multispectral surveys carried out by RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system) on pilot vineyards. Geo4Agri will also be responsible for verifying the correspondence of the output provided by third-party phytosanitary models, calibrated on the basis of observations obtained from agro-meteorological stations, with the vegetative conditions that can be observed remotely, in an attempt to identify spectral predictors capable of detecting the possible presence or development of the main vine diseases (powdery mildew, downy mildew and botrytis).

The monitoring of the vineyards began in January 2021. As the software platform created by the project partner Koinè Sistemi was not ready at the time, the data was initially hosted on Turin Polytechnic’s iXemWine platform. This platform promotes data sharing between its users and access is free. In a first phase, the wineries involved in the project were able to rely on the functions offered by iXemWine for the display of the data collected and the calculation of bioclimatic indices.

A new integration was subsequently implemented on iXemWine allowing the SISAV project platform to retrieve data independently and in a manner completely transparent to the user. Integration tests between the two platforms were conducted during summer 2021, at the end of which the measurements taken by the project’s sensors were fully shared.

Practical demonstrations of the operation of the sensors were carried out during the 2021 edition of Enovitis in Campo, held in Mombaruzzo on 01 – 02 July 21.

The SISAV website is visible here.