Know what works on your vineyard: Trends

At the start, we aimed to make it very easy for farmers to collect data out in the field. Whether on the tractor or walking through rows of trees, we wanted to make it seamless, easy, and quick to record those observations in the moment. It made sense to start here because without quality observations and data from your farm, it would have been silly to talk about trends and patterns.

Fast-forward to the present: we have multiple farmers with enough quality data to start looking at trends and patterns – an exciting new area. Many farmers have already found the graphs provided great insights around harvest (see the Veraison graph below) and more.

 We always make Sectormentor as customisable as possible, the Trends section included. You can see in the examples below many different variables can be plotted against each other over different timeframes. We want to ensure you can get the insights you want for your farm. 

Pruning Weights for each Variety

This graph shows the average pruning weight per vine for all the different varieties at Davenport Vineyards in 2017. It clearly shows that both the newer Siegerrebe and Bacchus are much more vigorous than the older vines of the same variety. This will allow them to make better soil health and pruning plans. It also looks like they are aiming for an average of around 1 kg per vine of pruning weight across most varieties. The next step is that we will be plotting pruning weights per variety over time as this indicates the management of vigour of the vines.

This graph shows the average pruning weight per vine for all the different varieties at Davenport Vineyards in 2017. It clearly shows that both the newer Siegerrebe and Bacchus are much more vigorous than the older vines of the same variety. This will allow them to make better soil health and pruning plans. It also looks like they are aiming for an average of around 1 kg per vine of pruning weight across most varieties. The next step is that we will be plotting pruning weights per variety over time as this indicates the management of vigour of the vines.

Number & Severity of Frosts for each Variety

This graph shows the frequency (height of the bar) and intensity (colour) of frost across each of the different varieties in the last year at Davenport Vineyards. The frost hit hardest the Bacchus New, Chardonnay 9, Ortega New, Pinot Noir Redmoors and Siegerriebe New.  The team discussed that it would be interesting to overlay this graph with yields and see just how much the frost affected yields – this knowledge will be invaluable if heavy frosts hit again in future years.

This graph shows the frequency (height of the bar) and intensity (colour) of frost across each of the different varieties in the last year at Davenport Vineyards. The frost hit hardest the Bacchus New, Chardonnay 9, Ortega New, Pinot Noir Redmoors and Siegerriebe New.  The team discussed that it would be interesting to overlay this graph with yields and see just how much the frost affected yields – this knowledge will be invaluable if heavy frosts hit again in future years.

Shoots per vine for each Variety

This shows the average number of shoots per vine per variety in 2016 at Davenport Vineyards.

This shows the average number of shoots per vine per variety in 2016 at Davenport Vineyards.

Vine Health for each Parcel

This shows the health of vines in each parcel recorded at a UK vineyard a month before harvest. Interesting to see the clonal parcels of Chardonnay 78, 95 and Pinot Meunier 865 where there are a large number of vines in ok condition. The team will be paying extra attention to these 3 parcels as harvest approaches to prevent late fungal attacks or Botrytis issues.

This shows the health of vines in each parcel recorded at a UK vineyard a month before harvest. Interesting to see the clonal parcels of Chardonnay 78, 95 and Pinot Meunier 865 where there are a large number of vines in ok condition. The team will be paying extra attention to these 3 parcels as harvest approaches to prevent late fungal attacks or Botrytis issues.

Veraison for each Parcel

This graph was very helpful in the UK as the grapes turned colour ahead of harvest. It shows how many of the sample sites within each parcel had reached veraison. It was helpful to understand how far along each area was and therefore predict how the harvest might play out across different plots.

This graph was very helpful in the UK as the grapes turned colour ahead of harvest. It shows how many of the sample sites within each parcel had reached veraison. It was helpful to understand how far along each area was and therefore predict how the harvest might play out across different plots.

*sadly the olives are in a rather precarious state after the fire, you can read a bit more about that here

Enabling a Cotswold farmer to monitor his own soil health & working with PFLA

A cheery Ian Boyd with his cows in a field of clover and wild-flowers knee high. The whole farm is covered in wildflowers!

A cheery Ian Boyd with his cows in a field of clover and wild-flowers knee high. The whole farm is covered in wildflowers!

I arrived at Whittington Lodge in the Cotswolds on a very grey and damp day in August. A cheery Ian Boyd greeted me and immediately put the kettle on. At first Ian seemed very wary as I told him I’d made an app that was going to help him monitor his soil health that we were trying out today. I don’t blame him for being suspicious, I am a British girl with a distinctly American accent, wearing leopard-print leggings and claiming that I had created an app that could help him out in the field. Who wouldn’t be suspicious!?

I was there on the invite of Niels Corfield, a soil health advisor who is setting up a framework so that farmers can use a combination of visual methods to assess the health of their soils. He is doing this in conjunction with the Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) a relatively young organisation that certifies and provides resources for about 300 farmers who are committed to farming animals solely from their pastures. This practice requires careful soil and sward (grass) management to ensure the animals always have something to eat out in the fields. This type of farming can also be extremely regenerative for soils, as the animals help to return critters to the soils and this practice is thought to have the potential to sequester large amounts of carbon in the soils.

Back to the misty farm - Niels, Ian and I bundled into the trucks with our simple tools - a spade, a card-table, few trays, soil corer, garlic crusher and a refractometer.

Niels counting earthworms, part of the spade test. (credit: Niels Corfield)

Niels counting earthworms, part of the spade test. (credit: Niels Corfield)

First thing you notice when you get out into Ian’s fields is that there are wildflowers everywhere, the fields are alive with colour. We trundled over to Fir Hill, setup the card table and got to work. Ian downloaded the app on his phone, and we walked around the field counting the % of undesirables (i.e weeds), % of bare earth, no. of grass species, no. of broadleaves and more every 60 steps, Ian recording it all himself using the app.

By lunchtime Ian was so excited, all reservations abandoned, he was telling all the newcomers about how easy he had found the different visual tests Niels had put together, and that the app he used to record it all was no trouble at all to use to note down results. I was thrilled at the turn around and his enthusiasm - It’s moments like this that make me realise bringing simple digital technology to the sustainable farming sector is so worth it!

Ian jumping on the spade to do the spade tests.

Ian jumping on the spade to do the spade tests.

Ian looking through his refractometer to get a Brix reading.

Ian looking through his refractometer to get a Brix reading.

Preparing to do a Brix test, with a garlic crusher and a good handful of the foliage from the field. Quite a bit of diversity from the herbal ley Ian planted.

Preparing to do a Brix test, with a garlic crusher and a good handful of the foliage from the field. Quite a bit of diversity from the herbal ley Ian planted.

A bit about the app, my parents moved to Chile over ten years ago and planted 8000 olive trees. We experienced repeated frost damage on a few hundred trees and so I devised an app to help keep track of this. We have now collected over 2 years of data and are starting to use it to make  decisions on our farm. We started selling the app to fellow farmers just under a year ago and now have blueberry growers, vineyards, agroforestry projects and more using it in the UK, Chile and US.

But why is this app relevant to the soil health on Ian’s mixed arable farm in the Cotswold’s?

Well, a few reasons:

  1. Customised settings: Firstly the app is incredibly customisable. On our farm we set it up to record information about pruning and frosts, but you could set it up to record whatever you want. So before heading to Ian’s farm Niels and I sat down and went through the different visual tests he had learnt were helpful on farm. We added a list of them all, with a list of options to choose e.g bare soil - 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% or a numerical value for the Brix reading. This means that Ian picked up the app and basically had a checklist of everything to record in his field, no typing necessary.

  2. Easy to use: Secondly we made the app incredibly simple and easy to use with big buttons (my dad is not the nimblest of typers). We had to do this because we wanted anyone on our farm to be able to use the app with almost zero training. This means a super farmer-friendly app, something I think Ian would attest to.

  3. Making data understandable: Finally we are now focused on providing helpful graphs and analysis that make the data interesting and easily understandable for the farmers - this is what we will be focused on going forward with Ian and Niels. As farmers ourselves we think it’s so important to have data that is really useful for your own farm. The digital collection of data like this also means that farmers will be collecting a consistent data set across many farms - this can therefore be combined across farms to build an evidence based that is so important for informing policy and providing vital info to the PFLA.

 

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Some of the results (whited out) and photos from the initial visit.

We are incredibly excited to be working with Ian, Niels and PFLA to support visual assessment of soil health by farmers. Our next steps are to work with 2-3 PFLA farmers who over the course of the year will use the app to do these soil assessments on their farm every couple of months. That way we can help them figure out the best way to monitor their soils themselves and also the best way for us to visually show any results. This is all so that farmers can feel enabled to manage the health of their own soil and learn what indicators really show improvements in their soil health. This will also benefit the PFLA to see across multiple farms what the best indicators are and share these insights with their members and maybe even policy makers!

If you are interested in using Sectormentor to monitor data on your farm don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on info@vidacycle.com. We would love to hear from you!

Good News: Workmentor now available on ANDROID! :)

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We worked closely with a Chilean team to develop the Android version of the Workmentor app. It’s almost exactly the same as the iOS app, just a bit more swish looking. Our brilliant head of tech, Inti, made it all happen.

As long as your phone has an NFC reader (check this list) workers can check in and out seamlessly, selecting the specific task they are working on at anytime..

If you aren't sure about Workmentor then ask yourself: Do you want to have a good level of trust with your workers? Want to cut down the amount of time your company spends managing workers? Want to know exactly how much time it takes to manage each crop? Workmentor provides all of this and more. Read more about it here, or contact us here to find out more.

We have many farms of all different sizes using our simple app in the UK, US and Chile. It’s a system we developed on our farm, so it is very easy for anyone on the farm to use it and made to work out in the field.

With Workmentor you can easily manage workers to know exactly what happens in harvest, including how much is harvested, as well as generate timesheets for day-to-day tasks all year round.

What you get with Workmentor:

  • Timesheets for each worker for each day, week and month with hours broken down by type of work
  • Calendar view of how much was harvested, by whom and when, plus total amounts for the day, week and month
  • A second by second log of how much each worker harvested, when and who was supervising
  • A record of how long was spent on each task
  • Good records of breaks to ensure workers get the breaks they need
  • Central log of information that everyone can see and trust
  • Single entry system, so much less risk of errors in the data
  • A very simple app that any worker can use out in the field to enter information

Are you interested in using Workmentor with your workers? Get in touch or find out more here. We are here to support fellow farmers and producers like ourselves and look forward to hearing from you!

 

Meet Erik & Soledad, the newest farmers using both our apps to save time and gather data

Meet Erik and Soledad who live on a farm in Maule Valley, Chile where they grow 11 acres of blueberries and 70 acres of corn. They are the latest farmers to start using Sectormentor and Workmentor.

Erik and Soledad are very hands on farmers, you find them out in the field most days. Soledad is a mother of 3 and the agronomist, she is using Sectormentor to ensure their blueberries stay healthy and they catch any problems early. Erik will be using Workmentor to help manage pay and workload for their 2 full time workers as well as contract workers during pruning and harvest. We are excited to be working with them and supporting their farming business.
 

Case Study: Davenport Vineyards use Sectormentor to help determine if they need to do a second pruning

Will Davenport and his team have been collecting data for years but it was confined to scruffy notebooks and only typed up a few months later. No he uses Sectormentor to record the pruning weights from sample vines to determine how vigorous growth is. Back in the office they use the Sectormentor website to look at weights, combined with bud numbers to decide if they need a second pruning, or if they should add more compost in specific areas. Good data, combined with their years of knowledge, helps ensure they do all they can to help the vines produce high quality organic grapes.

Last year he also used Sectormentor to record number of flowers per vine in early June, and that same day he had what turned out to be pretty accurate prediction of his yield 5 months before harvest, helping him plan and have his harvest run smoothly.

Sectormentor is very flexible so you can set it up to record whatever is important to you on your farm, so we have many different types of farmers using it. Sectormentor is also coming in handy as part of on-farm research and trials across groups of farms, from soil-sampling to agroforestry it can help everyone collect information and learnings that can easily be combined to help create a consistent and reliable data set, perfect to find patterns between multiple farms.  

Will Davenport tells us about his experience:

“Sectormentor helps us run our business effectively. It’s a management tool for out in the field, the more data I have about what’s going on in the vineyard the better I can do my job. We use it to record things like flowers per vine which gives us an early prediction of yields. It’s simple, you just record the things you need.”


Interested in how this could work for you, you can read more about it here, or contact us here

Case Study: Marcela & Jorge use Workmentor to save time and better manage their workers

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Marcela and Jorge run a family business growing and propagating blueberries and other fruits in the Central Region, Chile. They always used paper and poker chips to record the harvest but they recently switched to Workmentor to record how much each worker picked. Their workers love it, as do they! It saves them lots of time and makes it easier to pay workers. They have many fewer errors than before, plus it's easy to sort any disputes because they have a trusted record of everything that happened.

They are also starting to use Workmentor to manage their day to day timesheets as it’s an easy way for workers to log their hours on the go and record how long they spend on each task which is key for pay, understanding production costs and estimating workload. This is a new feature we have created to better support worker-farmer relationships and smooth administration.

Here is what Benjamin the blueberries manager has to say about using Workmentor:

"It saved me hours and hours of time as I can quickly and easily see amounts every week for every person. It's a very systematic way of getting data, there is not much room for mistakes. There is good traceability of who did what and when. We use it with no trouble at all with our regular workers and get good feedback from people that they trust the system. For example, we had a difference in kg between what one worker thought they had picked and what we thought they had picked. To resolve this we went and looked through Workmentor, it was clear minute by minute who had harvested what so we added it up there and she went away happy." 


Interested in how this could work for you, you can read more about it here, or contact us here

blueberries workmentor tech farming

Surviving the fire and the power of community

Being an independent and smaller-scale farmer doesn't always look that easy and we have been a bit quiet since a fire swept through our farm and charred everything.
The more time we spend on the farm, the more we want to feel part of a wider community of independent farmers, both locally and around the world.

We remain after the fire, and the rains have brought some green back to the land - it is amazing to watch the natural world recover... and funnily enough most of our RFID tags we use to record data survived the fire!

We now must wait and are focused on building up our soil... in the meantime we enjoy seeing the faces and farms of others and knowing that we can all work together to create a thriving independent farming sector. So part of the tech and tools newsletter & blog going forward will be about sharing these faces and voices, an echo of what Abby helps create with Farmerama. If you haven't listened to the latest podcast yet then do tune in here, it's all about a farming sector built on beauty and business.

9. Simple soil tests, passive solar planning ☀ and our first featured farmer 🌻

Tea Bag Index  - a simple scientific method to test microbial activity in your soils

The tea bag index (TBI) is a very low-tech, low-cost scientific tool that allows you to test the microbial activity in your soil. 

The Tea Bag Index experiment is easy: You take one green and one rooibos tea bag (everybody has to use the same brand). You weigh them, bury them 8 cm deep in the soil and after 3 months, you take them out, dry them and weigh them again. The weight loss will tell you how quickly plant material decomposes at the burial location. 

Decomposition is a critical function performed by soil microbes that recycles nutrients, forms humus and stores carbon. It is important to understand decomposition so we can improve soil nutrient status and take carbon out of the atmosphere.

The Tea Bag Index is a cheap and easy way to help you better understand microbial life in the soil on your farm. You can compare different materials (e.g. different pastures, different crops) or the same material in different soils/fields or at different times of year, or a combination. You can find a good explanation of how and why it works here.  You can also hear more about it in this month’s episode of Farmerama, listen here.

Sun Surveyor App - use sun and shade elements to guide decisions whilst out in the field

One of the most important resources on our farm is the sun (as is true on most farms). All of our buildings have passive solar design at their core, and the sun’s movements are always central to everything we create on the farm. The sun's positioning (and the length of shadows) in each season help us to determine the placement of a water tank, or where to plant the lettuces in the Summer.

The Sun Surveyor App makes it easy to foresee exactly where the sun will be at any time of day, any day of the year, at an exact location that you specify and calculate the shadows caused by any objects in the area. This makes it the perfect tool to use when you are out and about in the field and want to use passive solar/permaculture design principles to plant a stand of trees or determine the location of a new polytunnel.

The lite version is free and you can get pretty much all the information you need. The full version is £8 and makes it a bit easier as you can use your phone’s camera to see the sun position superposed on your surroundings.

Featured farmer: Nick Green from Incredible Farm, Todmorden  

We are excited to feature Nick because he is extremely resourceful and always looking for low-cost and easy options for making his small farm run effectively.

1.Can you tell us a bit about you and your farming setup?

We are a small community farm, started 6 years ago with the intention of re-inventing tiny family scale agriculture. Motivations are climate change, food security, sustainability etc.

We are on a 5 acre plot, deep in a Pennine valley with plans to expand.  We have several businesses within the whole: a veg business; a fruit tree nursery where we sell trees to community groups etc; and a  teaching business where we seem to be developing a USP of alternative provision – for the  ones who fit better into an outdoor setting than a school.

We also have a nano dairy, of 3 jersey cows, and are working towards sales of unpasteurised milk. Two pigs lap up the whey from cheesemaking and apple pulp from cider making from the nearly 1000 trees we planted 8 years ago.

We have nominal support locally, but the real support is young people coming to stay and work on the farm, for food and accommodation, from all over the world. Often the BEST people and future leaders. We have a strong sense of changing lives, globally.
 

2.Can you tell us the story of the latest tool you added to your farming setup? What works? what doesn't work?

This summer we made two new gadgets. A solar fruit drier, out of the polytunnel front door (we take it off in summer) vented with a solar fan. But the key to its success is slates: Black, heat absorbing and we had them already!

The other is a development of a simple milking machine we bought. We successively replaced the parts until we had the capacity we needed, and it ran on 12V from our solar supply. The cows like it, we like it, it’s easy to use, simple and cheap.
 

3.What is the most important tool you use? What's so good about it?

Probably the most useful thing we have is a supply of re used black one ton water tanks (IBC’s). We use them for all sorts: chopped in half for movable grow beds; for water storage that stores heat passively in the polytunnels; chopped down to make a hay feeder for the cows; to drag stuff around the farm; for a duck pond, or a gosling nursery; we even just use them for drinking water storage!

If you want to hear more about Nick's tools or ideas you can get in touch through Incredible Farm facebook or twitter, or send us any questions and we will pass them on.