A UK agri-tech company that benefited from participation in Innovate UK’s Global Business Innovation Programme is now expanding in South Australia, a development welcomed by the State Government and Pernod Ricard Winemakers.
Supported by Innovate UK, Deep Planet built a decision management tool that helps winemakers and growers strengthen climate change resilience, while also improving yields and reducing vineyard management costs. The tool, VineSignal, uses AI, satellite imagery and IoT sensor data to enable winemakers and growers to make better farming decisions, based on real-time information on factors such as grape maturity, vine health, moisture levels and disease outbreak predictions.
Agri-tech GBIP to Australia
The Oxford-based company was identified as a high-growth company by Innovate UK and was accepted onto an agri-tech in Australia-focused Global Business Innovation Programme (GBIP), delivered by Innovate UK EDGE. It was then introduced to global winemakers, including eight of the top Australian producers, on the GBIP market visit to Australia in February 2020.
During the visit, it attended the agri-food evokeAg conference and met with regional industry bodies and research organisations. This enabled it to develop VineSignal from the R&D stage to a commercial product that is now being used in key wine regions across the world.
“We built an extensive network in Australia within a matter of weeks,” says Sushma Shankar, co-founder and CEO at Deep Planet. “The GBIP was instrumental in helping us gain market entry, going from pilot to commercial-scale and intensifying our research and development efforts.”
One of the early Australian adopters of VineSignal is the prestigious wine producer Pernod Ricard Winemakers. “Deep Planet has demonstrated some exciting capability in helping us to better predict yields, manage maturity and variability in our blocks. It’s definitely the way our industry needs to go to ensure we remain globally competitive,” says Philip Deverell, national viticulturist at Pernod Ricard Winemakers.
The global wine industry is worth $340.8bn, according to 2021 figures from Statista. But, climate change is having a negative impact on crop yields. Unseasonably high temperatures in France in early 2021, followed by heavy frosts, damaged up to 80% of French vineyards in most regions, according to the national wine union CNIV. And a recent study by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, predicts a significant reduction in the regions of the world that are suitable for growing wine grapes – up to as much as 56% if temperatures rise by 2°C, or 85% if they rise by 4°C.
By using VineSignal, growers are able to predict and mitigate some of the impacts of climate change. “We help growers understand when to harvest, how to get the best yield, what the yield will be at the end of the season, and so on,” says Shankar. “We now have close to 40 customers, from SMEs to really large wine producers.”
Since being on the GBIP, Deep Planet has doubled its workforce from five to ten people, and is recruiting for four more roles. It plans to expand into other crops, starting with potatoes and cereal. It also plans to develop tools around automated disease, nutrition and carbon baselining.