203: Get the Latest Viticulture Research from 30 Experts

If you like this podcast, then you will not want to miss the premiere sustainable winegrowing event of the year – the Sustainable Ag Expo. Cliff Ohmart, Principal at Ohmart Consulting Services has helped Vineyard Team bring together the nation’s top researchers to present at the Expo for a number of years. In today's podcast, you will get a preview of the topics and speakers for this year’s event.

Enjoy the perfect blend of in-person and online learning. Speak directly with national experts, earn over 20 hours of continuing education (including 18 hours of DPR), and explore sustainable ag vendors November 14-15, 2023, at the Madonna Inn Expo Center in San Luis Obispo California.

By popular request, this year we have doubled the number of online courses so attendees can learn on-demand between October 16 and November 30.

Here are some of the sessions Cliff mentions. Make sure to check out the for the full program:



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Craig Macmillan  0:00 

And with me today is Cliff Ohmart. He is a consultant with Omart Consulting in a whole variety of areas. One of the things that he's doing right now is he's helping to organize or he's organizing the program for the 2023 Sustainable Ag Expo in San Luis Obispo coming up. He's going to tell us a little bit about some of the folks and some of the topics that will be there and some things that might be of interest to you. So welcome, Cliff.


Cliff Ohmart  0:22 

Thank you very much, Creg. It's nice to be here with you. And I think this is a great opportunity to have this podcast before the expo so people can get an even better feel than just the website of what's coming.


Craig Macmillan  0:34 

Absolutely. For those who don't know, what is the Sustainable Ag Expo?


Cliff Ohmart  0:38 

it is a combined presentation slash trade show that the Vineyard Team has been putting on, I think, for at least 15 years now.


Craig Macmillan  0:47 

 It's been a while.


Cliff Ohmart  0:48 

I's developed into quite the history, the roughly the format is there's a session in the morning from eight to 10, a half hour break for people to go out to the trade show 10:30 to noon, more presentations. Then there's lunch for people go to the trade show, then one to three, another half hour break, and then 3:30 to five. And there's only one session at the time, so people don't have to worry about missing something. Also, they're free to circulate through the trade show during the presentations if they so choose. This year, the Vineyard Team decided to change the format, which I takes I'm excited to see how this will go. So this year, it will be Tuesday, Wednesday full days as I just described that schedule. But then Monday evening, it'll be a kickoff what we're going to be doing for the feature presenter, which is Dr. Terry Bates from Cornell, he and I will be on stage for a period of time, I think half hour to an hour where we'll be in sort of an interview back and forth situation give a chance to see him ask questions to get ready for the next day. And so I'm excited about that. And then the first session which will be Tuesday morning from eight to 10. First Terry Bates will be doing a formal presentation of his work followed by a panel of Terry Bates, Dr. Andrew McElrone, and Dr. Mason Earles from Mason is from UC Davis. Andrew is works at ARS Agricultural Research Service Station, and Davis and their area of expertise is all around detailed data analysis and Andrew especially on water relations, particularly in vineyards, Mason Earles more along remote sensing, things like that. And the focus of Terry's talk, as well as the night before is on precision viticulture. He, along with a big team of people developed something called the efficient vineyard. And it's very impressive, in part because the software is available for anybody for free. And it's anywhere from it can capture as the website is a really nice website for you can use your phone to capture gopher holes, the location of gopher holes, broken post right up to very advanced remote sensing that you can import into the software. So it's all in one spot. I'm excited about this, because I think you've probably seen the same thing. There's so much technology out there. And it's very exciting. But I think especially for the small to mid size grower, there's a concern about do I have the time to do this? Do I have the ability to do this? What's this all about? Where's the bigger grower can hire somebody to check it out? And I think the session Monday night and Tuesday morning is going to be focused on what's the reality here? What can growers do with it. And then from the researchers perspective, which is Andrew McElrone, and Mason Earles, they want to see people applying their work. And so what is that's really what I'm hoping to get out of that session.


Craig Macmillan  3:49 

Yeah, I have interviewed Terry Bates. And I've also communicated with him off and on over the years. And his areas of specialization is proximity sensing. So some of the high tech stuff they do has to do with like yield monitors and harvesters and different types of EC sleds and stuff like that. But he also is very much about making a map. And you can do it. One of his messages to me almost every time I talk to him is like people can do this, you can do it. You don't need to go too crazy, the most important thing is do it. And so I'm really excited to see him there and talk about the more advanced technological stuff. But also I imagine he'll be encouraging people to follow this concept. I think it's really, really fascinating and the things that they find out it's fascinating, too.


Cliff Ohmart  4:33 

I agree.


Craig Macmillan  4:34 

There's a lot of stuff also that's out there that's available but you don't have to invent you don't have to invest in there's information that's out there.


Cliff Ohmart  4:40 

Yeah, that's what I think, especially for us on the West Coast. You know, Cornell is a powerhouse, as you know, and I think West Coast people, some people probably know that others don't. And there's more and more things to tap into, on both coasts, as well as the Middle. One fun thing too for me Is the moderator for the after Terry's talk for the session with Terry, Mason, and Andrew is going to be moderated by Donnell Brown, who is executive director of the National grape Research Alliance. And one of the things to think about is I don't have to moderate she's going to do it. Then the other thing is, the National Grape Research Alliance has been instrumental in bringing researchers together from around the US in viticulture and enology and creating a goal oriented team to go pursue money to do various things like develop the efficient vineyard project. So she's going to be the moderator. So she knows these people well, so that'll be fun. My only regret is I know, there won't be enough time to really get into what we do as much. But there'll be afterwards for people to talk to the speakers on the side.


Craig Macmillan  5:56 

And that is one of the really great things about the expo is the speakers. Well, I guess full disclosure. Years ago, I worked for a Vinyard Team. And the position was technical program manager and and I was responsible for putting together programming for the expo and whatnot. Every buddy that I ever recruited, was super happy to stick around and talk to growers. That was like the high point for them. And this is an opportunity where you get to do that. And they take questions during the session. But sometimes people there's not time or they didn't want to ask and then they have an opportunity to actually interact with the with the scientists themselves. And that's just a fantastic opportunity. Because a lot of conferences and meetings, you can go and you don't really have the opportunity to talk to the the experts afterwards. And it's much more informal. It's very much also grower to grower, I think one of the things that's great about the the expo is there's a lot of conversation after the sessions between people along the lines of Yeah, we tried this, or we're thinking about trying this, or what do you think about it, you know, and that's just super invaluable. I think.


Cliff Ohmart  6:59 

I don't want to forget, I don't think we will. But another change in format is this year, instead of the third day of presentations, we're going to be recording 10 or so virtual recordings that will be available from October 16 to November 30, to the attendees of the Expo, and we'll touch on a couple of those. I'm sure the Vineyard Team website will have a nice list of presenters of the imprison Expo in virtual as well so people could see. But I think we're going to touch on a couple of those you and I in this podcast. But I wanted to bring that out as well.


Craig Macmillan  7:34 

Let's go right into that. First of all, because that is a change for Expo. But I think it's also a change kind of in our modern world. So this is the idea of making content available to those who have bought tickets essentially. Right. So it's another day of the expo, but they can view it at any time during that window.


Cliff Ohmart  7:51 



Craig Macmillan  7:52 

So that gives them some schedule flexibility, which is pretty cool. Who are some of the folks that are going to be in these virtual virtual sessions?


Cliff Ohmart  8:00 

There's a really interesting, I think half hour to 45 minute talk by a fellow named Michael Miller, who is the California Association of Winegrape Growers, Director of Government Relations, and he is doing a presentation on the laws and regulations related to using robotics, particularly driverless tractors in the vineyard, which probably does not surprise you. The technology is ahead of the laws and regulations. So there are driverless tractors now a little available, and yet the laws and regulations around you know, through OSHA, are you have to have a driver on the tractor at all times. Very interested to hear that presentation about what's coming, who's doing the work to try to change those laws. What might the changes look like.


Craig Macmillan  8:45 

I'm totally fascinated by this idea. And yeah, absolutely, technology will run ahead of regulation, and then regulation kind of get caught up. And that's where we're at. Right now. We're in the middle of that process. And we went through with drones to kind of work our way through it. I can't wait to see that one. And it's gonna be fascinating. Who else?


Cliff Ohmart  9:05 

Another advantage of doing these virtual recordings is we can get people from overseas. So those that have attended the expo before, especially the virtual ones during the pandemic, there's this interesting fellow Dr Zi Hao Wang at the University of Sydney and he has been working on using drones in vineyards for bird control. So he's two other and two years in the past on this and it's a continuation of the work he's doing. It's still pretty much theoretical at the moment in that it's not being used commercially out in the vineyard. However, he is an engineer by trade and education. And you can see when you see some printed presentation, he brings that to the end. One of them very interesting things is his his focus is on tethered drones. Not free flying drones. For two reasons. One is they need to be on call all the time during the day daylight hours. So there's a problem with battery life. And with tethered drones, you don't have to have that. The other is that even though drones, the trades make it sound like they're very easy to fly, they get away. And another reason that tethered drones offer the advantage. So it's fascinating. He's got simulations that he shows in his presentation about how the Tethered drones will work. One of the things that he he just reviews what he's done before, and there is a past year's presentation on this, where he shows proof of concept that you can train the birds to be afraid of drones, if just the drone by suffer bird is not going to be afraid of it. But he literally took dead crows. And because crows do exist native crows in Australia and our problems, he hung them from drones to show that you can definitely condition them very quickly. And then he's got great videos of birds flying away during this.


Craig Macmillan  11:04 

That is really a trip.


Cliff Ohmart  11:05 

And then another interesting one is going to be on carbon planning for for your farm or your vineyard. There is a company that develops sensors and things like that, but also ecologically based things called Agrology. They do some very detailed work. And so the CEO of Agrology, Adam Koeppel is going to give a presentation, carbon planning, I mean specifically about carbon planning, and measuring soil carbon in real time, which is necessary and the benefits of carbon planning. I thought that that's kind of a unique thing as well.


Craig Macmillan  11:40 

What is carbon planning?


Cliff Ohmart  11:42 

This would be you know, you've already heard people marketing, I've got a carbon neutral vineyard, it's how do you measure that? You know, how do you sequester carbon? Can you sequester carbon? What difference does it make, but it would be along the lines of and clearly energy consumption comes in? How do you develop a carbon plan for your farm, so that what's happening in the soil, but also energy use and all of that.


Craig Macmillan  12:06 

Speaking of so carbon, there is going to be a session I think on day two, around climate smart AG, regenerative ag and soil health.


Cliff Ohmart  12:15 

Yes, and I am so excited about this session. When I reached out early on, I definitely wanted to session on soils, because there's so much going on around soil, micro biomes carbon sequestration, regenerative farming, and knowing that there's a lot of great concepts out there. But how much do we really know about all these things? Well, actually, the title of the session is, for the whole two hours, soil health and regenerative management to support the goals of Winegrape producers, Charlotte Decock, from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. So she'll be local in terms of the in person, Expo, she's going to be tackling this topic of regenerative agriculture. What is it? And what can be your production goals around it? So she herself is leading a comprehensive effort on looking at the practices which, you know, regenerative AG is nothing new, to be honest. And I think a lot of us realize that but so she's gonna be looking at things that are going to be sound very familiar cover cropping, compost, addition, sheep grazing, and no till, and what are they doing to specific soil characteristics biophysical and chemical, then another very interesting talk is Noelymar Gonzales Maldonado. And she is a PhD student with Christina Lazcanois here at UC Davis and Noely done some interesting survey around the perceptions of grape growers on what they think soil health is. And then she's connected that to the results of our survey to actual problem soils versus healthy soils and based on the growers deficient, and what they have done in those soils to, you know, address this idea of soil health, and it's going to be fascinating.


Craig Macmillan  14:02 

Oh, yeah, um, yeah, totally.


Cliff Ohmart  14:04 

Because we're talking about practitioners out there. What do they think regenerative AG is soil health is how do they deal with it and the soils if they have both really good ones, and not so good soils. And then the last person is I mentioned Christina Lazcano, and she's a soil scientist here at Davis, and she's going to be looking at regenerative ag and production goals. And she's leading a comprehensive effort on practices that I've already mentioned the cover crop and compost edition and looking at the effects chemically and physically on the soils. So you can see they're all related. The session is going to be interesting in that they'll all be up front, and they're going to be tag teaming. So it's going to be a really different type of session.


Craig Macmillan  14:49 

That sounds really, really fascinating. I know Christina and Charlotte, and they are absolutely fantastic. Not only are they great scientists, they're great communicators, that's worth the price of admission to just see that one session. As far as I'm concerned.


Cliff Ohmart  15:01 

So that's going to be Wednesday morning from eight to 10. So, you know, I think we've got a lot of good stuff all day. But the session opening session Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning are clearly highlights.


Craig Macmillan  15:15 

Something else we should mention before I forget, are there continuing education hours available?


Cliff Ohmart  15:19 

There are and we basically our goal was to have 15 to 18 continuing education units for PCAs. And growers. So that means related to pest management stuff, it will be a combination of the in person presentations, as well as those virtual presentations. Some of the virtual ones will be awarded CPA units, CEU units where you will have to take an exam after you have presentation because you can imagine there's no way in two days, we're going to be able to cram in 15 to 18 hours of CPUs a lot of CCA units as well, for the in person expo.


Craig Macmillan  16:01 

Are any of those laws and regs. DPR laws and regs units?


Cliff Ohmart  16:05 

There are we have a closing session on Wednesday afternoon, that is going to be done by Juan Muniz from AgSafe on worker safety and pesticides around the farm. So that'll be an hour and a half of laws and regs for that session.


Craig Macmillan  16:21 

You've been to a bunch of these what's what's your favorite part, we've talked, we've hit on some highlights, but just you personally what's your favorite part of going to Expo?


Cliff Ohmart  16:27 

My favorite part is to listen to what people are talking about in terms of the different presentations. You know, I'm biased, because I've helped put them all together. That's what I listened for. And then of course, for me, I get to see people because being retired, I don't go to many meetings anymore. And it's great to see both the growers the viticultural consultants, the trade people that I know to talk on the side. So all of that, and then it's fun to peruse the trade show, I don't have a lot of time because I ended up introducing a lot of presenters. So it's it really is a combination of all of that, because I stay at the Madonna Inn it's also fun to stay in one of those funky rooms at the Madonna Inn. That's not to say it's not comfortable. But I think you laugh. I think anybody that stayed there, they've got some really interesting rooms.


Craig Macmillan  17:19 

For those who don't know, in San Luis Obispo, there's a hotel called the Madonna Inn, and they have themed rooms, and they're all different. And they're all decorated to the theme. So depending on how many times you stay, you'll stay in different rooms, and you'll see different things and the facilities themselves are quite interesting. So yeah, it's a fun, it's a fun place. It's a fun place to do it. And then they have an expo hall, which is where the expo will be, which is again, really a nice building, it's really well appointed, has everything that we need. Oh, what about what about food people need bring sack lunch?


Cliff Ohmart  17:53 

No, my experience with the expo is there's always food available for lunch. It's gonna vary from Tuesday to Wednesday. But I have never felt like I needed to go out over lunch.


Craig Macmillan  18:06 

I've always been very happy.


Cliff Ohmart  18:08 

Yeah. And then there'll be a snack in the afternoon, and then tea and coffee and some pastry in the morning before you get there. So it's worth getting there a little at a time. Because that's there as well.


Craig Macmillan  18:20  

How did you come up with the program? Were you given direction? Did you say hey, these are great ideas that you have people come to you and say I'd like to do this? How did you put together?


Cliff Ohmart  18:29 

There is an organizing committee that the venue team through Beth Vukmanic put together and it's you know, it's an existing committee from year to year. And so how we start is we independent of them, I sit down and come up with some ideas and send it to them. And they do the same to me. And we very quickly put a pretty large spreadsheet together with all our ideas and with the ideas come specific people. And then from there, it really tends to come together very quickly. Once we get started reaching out to people, we base it on what's been happening in the past what seems to be current this year, that wasn't last year. So it's a combination of things.


Craig Macmillan  19:12 

So again, it's grower driven, growers talking about what's of interest to them, and then handing it over and saying, okay, brings the best in the brightest. Obviously, things are always in flux. And at the point of this interview, we're quite a ways out from the expo. But we do have some other rock stars. I wanted to mention, John Roncoroni is going to be there. Apparently, he's a weed scientist. He is fantastic. I think he's retired or close to it, at least the last time I talked to him. And then Kendra Baumgartner and she's been kind of a perennial favorite, her areas, trunk diseases, and that area has progressed dramatically in 20 years what we've learned and it's always a joy to see what new stuff she brings. Akif Eskalen who's doing a lot of work in nursery practices. He's doing some pretty interesting things that could impact the whole industry, which I think is is pretty cool. Emily Symmes is going to talk a little bit about mealy bugs and mating disruption and David Haviland, who's an absolutely fantastic entomologist. I think he's going to talk about ant control. That's right. He's a very good speaker, and really, really good. George Zhuang. He is an extensionist, and has been doing really great work around the central valley, I believe, predominantly, but he speaks all over the state and has worked on all kinds of stuff. I think he's going to talk about root stocks. At this time. Matthew Fidelibus is also gonna be talking about root stocks and varieties in that session.


Cliff Ohmart  20:31 

What I would point out there is he has developed an online guide to grape varieties  root stocks, and that specifically was talking about so I think that's a great opportunity for growers to hear about this.


Craig Macmillan  20:43 

I'm also happy to see that Mark Fuchs is coming back. He's from Cornell, he has been one of the leaders in research on red blotch. He was our featured speaker at the expo, gosh, I don't know five or six years ago, he's always fascinating and is doing really interesting work. And then one of my favorite entomologist, and people in the whole world, Kent Daane, is gonna be talking about leaf row virus and areawide management for mealy bugs, which is turning out to be really important working together as a group to manage a pest. It's not just within your fence line, it's crossed the area. And that's been a really interesting project that has gotten some traction in Lodi, I'm familiar what they what they've done, there. And so that should be really fascinating as well, who am I leaving out?


Cliff Ohmart  21:26 

Our fellow named Brent Warneke, who is going to be talking about sensor based sprayers and spraying and vineyards. He's from Oregon State. And he'll be talking about air blast, as well as micro sprayers. He's done a series of interesting work on sprayers that are sensor based. And as he sort of says in his little description, just because you have a sensor based sprayer, doesn't mean you're all ready to go. He's going to talk about how they can be best used and what they actually can do for you.


Craig Macmillan  21:58 

David Morgan, I'm not familiar with David Morgan, can you tell me who that is?


Cliff Ohmart  22:03 

You did a great job of covering the entire agenda for the in person. Now we can talk a little to finish up on the virtual part. So I was really interested in trying to get someone to come and talk about the Pierce's Disease Control Program that is based at CDFA. And it's the research arm is funded by growers by an assessment. It's very important, I think, for growers to see how successful their research dollars have been. And to make a long story short, I ended up having David Morgan, who is now working on exactly what he's gonna be talking about. But he is going to focus his presentation on the bio control of Glassman sharpshooter, which I think everybody knows is one of the crucial pairings in the Pierce's disease problem. He's stationed out in Riverside with CDFA and very knowledgeable biocontrol is his expertise, there's going to be a talk about a fellow named Michael Brownbridge who is with Bioworks. I'm not familiar with Michael but he's going to be talking about pesticides as well as bio fertilizers. So that's going to be a part of the program. And another one we just you mentioned Kent, Dana, and you refer to Lodi Yes, I've been so excited to secure Maria's Zumkeller she is with Lang Twins vineyard in Lodi and I saw a talk she gave at Lodi grape day in February, the Lang Twins have recognized for a while now the seriousness of leaf roll virus being vectored by vine mealybug. So the two together it's becoming a huge problem. They have boldly approached the use of intensive monitoring and rogueing vineyards to see if they can manage economically vine mealubug for leaf roll. And so Maria is going to be talking about the latest. They've got several years of data now and it's very amazing and impressive to see what they've done. It's possibly for people that have serious problems with leaf roll. This is one approach they might want to take and it is connected to Kent Daane's work because he's worked in the Central Coast and Lodi with area wide management and fine mealybug and coupled with that leaf roll So those are the things that I'm highlighting up then there's a talk by Luca Brillante, from Fresno and he's going to be doing a presentation on diagnosing red blocks disease, which of course is what Mark Fuchs would talk about diagnosing red blocks with spectrometry. So remote sensing.


Craig Macmillan  24:40 

And then there's also some thing on powdery mildew controlled organic powdery mildew control.


Cliff Ohmart  24:45 

Yes, there is interesting talk by Annemiek Schilder who is the county director in Ventura County and she has done a research experiment using compost tea and So that's what her presentation is going to be about. It's basically starts by saying what is compost tea, which is important to understand how to make it. And it's it's pretty simple. And then how to apply it and what results she's gotten out in the vineyard with it.


Craig Macmillan  25:16 

Yeah, that'll be very interesting. People have been playing around with that for a long, long time. And I think it's, it's interesting to see it come back. And then one that I think that I will try to catch is Jeff Biller talking about the grape market, we can't forget the the other E. Right. We've got the environment, social equity, and economics and so grape markets' important. So all part of the all part of the picture and the those talks whether, it's him or somebody else is always very interesting. And there's usually something along those lines in the Expo.


Cliff Ohmart  25:48 

And it's going to be very current. We have organized with Jeff, he will record that presentation, literally a few days before the videos will be released. So I think like October 11. So it would be very up to date. In fact, to Jeff's credit, he was not going to do a recording unless he could do it at the last minute because things change. Again, I agree. It's, you know, their times are not easy for a lot of growers. So a grape market is as complicated and


Craig Macmillan  26:17 

Ever changing.


Cliff Ohmart  26:18 

Yeah, we all need to keep track of that.


Craig Macmillan  26:21 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks Cliff has been great. Our guest today was a Cliff Ohmart with Omart consulting, and one of the things he does is he helps put together programming for things like the Sustainable Ag Expo, which is coming up in November of 2023. I personally cannot recommend it enough. Every time I've gone or have helped organize it. I've learned so much. And I've also met so many great people and some of them are speakers and so more growers and some of them were vendors and it's just a it's just a fantastic time to kind of get away and it's also really fun because usually hopefully harvest is over and you have a little little reward there at the end before you take your break and then come back and do budgets. So anyway, thanks, Cliff.


Cliff Ohmart  27:02 

You're very welcome Crreg. It was really great to do it and I will see you and San Luis Obispo.


Craig Macmillan  27:09 

You will see me you will see me I'll be there.


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