The only constant in agriculture is change, this is no different for Viticulture and variety is the spice of life.
With any change – be it seasonal conditions, price fluctuations or new market opportunities – there are three avenues to explore, the first being resisting change – by resisting change, the industry is more than likely to be negatively affected in some way, shape or form. The second issue covers the idea of being reactive – quite often we make quick decisions to eliminate an immediate problem without exploring other solutions or taking the time to think about why? The final issue is concerned with proactivity – adopt and accept change – and this is the avenue where we need to invest time and resources to obtain the best outcome.
But what does adopting change look like in practice? And how can Australia’s winemakers not only adapt to the drought sweeping the eastern seaboard but also to the changing weather patterns and climate change?
In Australian agriculture, there was once a saying that agriculture was as simple as ‘just add water’. But as rainfall becomes more variable, what mitigation measures can we put in place?
And as temperatures increase, with profound impacts upon variety selection and viticultural practices, what can winemakers do to retain yields and product quality? The answer involves an unrelenting focus on research and development (R&D) and technological advancement.
“The increased use of satellite imaging, soil-moisture detection and plant-nutrient composition, to name but a few, has enabled us to make better-informed decisions, but we need to do more.”
As a sector we have a renewed emphasis on increasing awareness about soil health and nutrition. We have moved on from the concept of ‘just add water’ to focus on educating vignerons and winemakers to recognise that soil health and nutrition are of equal importance to adequate moisture levels.
Research indicates that the market is receptive to companies taking a lead in addressing climate change. However, there is a strong divide – not only in the degree of consumers’ engagement, but also in the nature of that engagement.
Companies need to do more to resonate with climate-conscious consumers. We need to communicate better about our practices, and explain transparently why these practices actually meet consumer expectations.
Similarly, when looking at the future of Australia’s wine sector, how can we be better at marketing our products and positioning them as premium offerings? How do we address changing consumer demands, while improving production and increasing profit margins? Is there a way we can seek out new markets or demographics for our products?
There are estimated to be 2468 wineries and 6251 grape growers employing 172,736 full- and part-time employees across 65 winegrowing regions in Australia, contributing over $40 billion annually to the Australian economy.
Viticulture is a long-term investment. The average cost of establishing a vineyard sits at around $35,000 per hectare, with most not producing any revenue for at least three years. Aside from the expensive capital outlay, the real risk is the three-year waiting period prior to going into production.
With changes to consumer demand and preferences accelerating, the need for viticulturalists to forecast what these trends might be is becoming more important, further strengthening the argument that we, as a sector, need to take a proactive approach to stay ahead of the game.
This means a single-minded focus on R&D, technological advancement and product development, which, combined with more effective marketing, will reinforce Australia’s premium position in the market.
– Pete Breugem