Chris Bennett, in his role as Executive Officer of the South Australian Vine Improvement Association (SAVIA), is helping to create a roadmap for the sustainable supply of high health planting material to the Australian grape and wine industry.

SAVIA is a not-for-profit organisation that provides support and leadership to regional vine improvement groups to provide high health planting material for vineyards.

“My work with SAVIA started about two years ago, when I was approached to review and update the vine improvement manual, which contains standards and protocols,” Chris said.

“I got to a point where I realised that the knowledge and science wasn’t adequate to support the aspirational standards that we were trying to introduce to the vine improvement sector.

“If we’re delivering industry standards and expecting industry to actually achieve those standards – for example, planting with material that’s free of specified viruses – then we need nurseries and vine improvement groups to be able to deliver virus free material.

“The processes, systems and traceability must be in place to guarantee high health status from day one. We also need to ensure our testing standards are sufficient to give us confidence in our systems.”

Chris is now working to ensure that vine improvement standards are underpinned by science and that the infrastructure is in place to support the standards.

“There’s a lot of work to do, so over the last month I’ve written the business case to outline all of the activities that are required to support the aspirational standards that we have,” Chris said.

“This will help to ensure the activities are supported, well-resourced and effective. We are determined to ensure that the industry has access to the best quality high-health planting material possible

“We are also focused on collaboration with all stakeholders – including Wine Australia, Vinehealth Australia, the Australian Wine Research Institute and Agriculture Victoria – to achieve the vision we have for the future.”

As well as this work to provide a roadmap for the vine improvement sector, Chris works for Riverland Wine running technical projects, such as the development of an app to help growers with disease management, by tapping into local weather stations for disease control planning.

Prior to his work in the wine industry, Chris spent more than 30 years working in irrigated horticultural crops and was the Industry Development Manager with the Almond Board of Australia (ABA) from 1995 to 2007.

During that time, he had the responsibility of developing, managing and reporting on the ABA’s research, development and extension programs, including the industry transforming Almond Optimisation Trial. An important part of the role was managing the industry’s germplasm and bud source trees as well as variety and rootstock imports and evaluation.

Chris was the CEO of Irrigation Australia from 2010 to 2013, the industry’s peak representative body which operates Australia’s Irrigation Professional Certification program.

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