Sarah Bird wears two industry hats – she is the manager of Naracoorte Heat Shed and also runs a busy consulting company, Sunbird Viticulture, that provides services for vineyard owners across the Limestone Coast.

Sarah and her team visit customers on a fortnightly basis, assessing vines for pest, disease, nutrition and irrigation issues. “Then we provide solutions to improve their operations,” Sarah said.

“I’ve also got a lab, so during vintage we test grape samples for Baume and acid to assist in determining harvest dates.”

When we spoke to Sarah in August, vineyards in the Limestone Coast were juggling pruning with the start of the new season.

“Buds are pushing through and leaves are coming out, but everyone is still madly pruning. So vineyard owners and contractors are very busy!” she said.

“When the new season begins it’s easy to get stuck into the necessary jobs like spraying and post replacement without thinking about biosecurity. But now is a vital time to make sure you’re adhering to your farm-gate hygiene practices, as there are people going in and out of vineyards with tractors and sprayers.”

As the Heat Shed manager, Sarah is more attuned to farm-gate hygiene practices than many contractors and says everyone in the supply chain can improve.

“In my business we have a range of clients, from corporates, to independent growers, to investment groups. They all manage biosecurity and farm-gate hygiene a little differently, which is tricky for a contractor,” she said.

“For example, a lot of the corporate vineyards have apps that you have to sign into when you arrive at the site, and the app asks you where you’ve been, where your vehicle’s been, have you been to Victoria, and so on. Those apps are great.

“But independent growers generally don’t use the apps. So it’s vital for them to ask their visitors the same questions.

“In the end, it all comes down to the individual vineyard owner protecting their vines. This includes having the conversations about biosecurity with contractors, putting footbaths out that we can use when we come onsite, and putting up biosecurity signs. It also includes starting to use one of the tracing apps, and letting us know what your codes are, and we’ll sign in when we come.

“Take ownership of biosecurity for your own vineyards and we’ll respect your rules.”

Sarah said knowledge of good biosecurity and farm-gate hygiene practices was slowly increasing. “More people are talking about biosecurity and are aware of the activities that good biosecurity and farm-gate hygiene involves,” Sarah said.

“It helps that many growers have taken on the Sustainable Winegrowing Australia program which includes biosecurity protocols and growers are audited on them, so it makes them maintain that standard.

“I think the program is good for the whole industry, even though I know the growers don’t like all the paperwork.”

An important part of biosecurity management for contractors is to think about the locations of their clients in ‘biosecurity bubbles’, which are zones of common biosecurity requirements.

“I stick with vineyards in a certain area in one day so that we’re not traipsing between all different regions. And then, of course, when we get home at the end of the day, we give our boots a scrub and soak them in Dettol which is much nicer then bleach,” Sarah said.

“My concern is the non-industry contractors who visit vineyards – such as fencing or mulch spreading contractors. They don’t have the awareness of vineyard pests, diseases and weeds, and the need to keep key pests from spreading.

“That’s why it’s important for growers to take ownership of biosecurity for their own vineyards. It’s up to growers, as well as consultants and everyone in the industry, to have conversations with people entering vineyards, to ask questions and to educate them.

“And we’re not just talking about phylloxera. There are viruses and weeds that we need to stop from spreading into vineyards. There’s caltrop in certain parts of the Limestone Coast, which is a really nasty weed, and we don’t want to be spreading that around.”

For more information about Sunbird Viticulture or the Naracoorte Heat Shed, contact Sarah Bird on 0429 430 641. To read about recent improvements to the Heat Shed click here. To make a Heat Shed booking click here.