Record rains in the first few weeks of September, across most of the Riverland, were welcomed by everyone, especially those growing crops for a living! At the same time, anxiety levels were elevated by concerns about ‘wet weather disease’ risks. So it’s no surprise that the first CropWatch bulletin for 2016/17 was received by winegrowers last Friday, with a collective sigh of relief.
CropWatch has been a regular part of the growing season for decades in this region; since the 1980s in fact. Many have referred to it as their ‘Bible’ especially in the ‘high risk period’ from September to December. CropWatch was developed by scientists from the Loxton Research Centre and run for many years as a ‘phone in service’ and then a fax service to subscribers. Riverland Wine (RW) took responsibility for the service soon after the organisation was established in 2002. And what good fortune this region has had to retain the services of Plant Pathologist, Peter Magarey, one of the original CropWatch team as the ‘interpreter’ of data and the primary author of the messages. Peter has been ably supported throughout by Mike Western and in recent years Peter Arnold (that’s Loxton’s PA, of TWE), Andrew Weeks and Ian Macrae who have all assisted in the formulation of the messages. It’s hard to estimate but the ‘savings’ to wine growers over the decades, as a result of CropWatch, would have amounted to many millions of dollars in saved chemical costs and saved crops.
And there’s more good news. Since being made redundant by PIRSA, Peter M has continued to develop the complex technology, together with a small team of volunteers and the owners of the network of automated weather stations (AWS). From those years of dedication GrowCare has evolved. Peter and RW are currently negotiating a (seamless) transition to the new service and members will have free access for the foreseeable future. But, there’s more good news. Peter has (advanced) plans for an even more automated service; one that will provide for an SMS alert to growers’ mobile phones! RW is presently in discussions with Peter about the best way to extend that higher level service to growers. People with smart phones will be able to read the message directly or go to their email and read ‘the word’. Fax services will be continued this year but that ‘terminal’ form of communique will be reviewed before the 2018 vintage.
Rest assured the service will not diminish as the transition takes place. Indeed it will improve as more AWS are brought on-line in coming weeks. Riverland Wine is targeting to have as many as 20 included for more precise interpretations of AWS data and weather events across the region.
A final footnote for all growers of all crops: This web-based service can be extended to all crops, including grains. This is yet another example of why all Primary Producers will benefit for collaborating through the new Riverland and Mallee Primary Producers Business Centre at Loxton.