The National Grape & Wine Initiative today announced award of $6 million in federal funding for research to develop and apply technology that will transform the way grapes are grown in the U.S.
The five-year project will be led by Dr. Terry Bates of Cornell University and Dr. Stephen Nuske of Carnegie Mellon University and focus on technology
that creates digital maps and analytical software tools allowing farmers to focus on variance and conditions in specific management zones in vineyards, according to Jean-Mari Peltier, president of NGWI.
“This project will build on an industry funded pilot project that developed tools for precision vineyard management,” Peltier said. “Together, we believe this will lead to commercialization of technology for farmers who grow wine, juice, raisin and table grapes.”
Using novel and off-the-shelf sensor technologies, the industry pilot project resulted in digital management maps of soil, canopy and crop. A new prototype crop estimation tool can be attached to common vineyard equipment and take thousands of images per minute providing a more accurate view of grape clusters.
“It is impossible to overstate the value of this technology,” said Peltier. “It could result in a 50 percent improvement in predicting crop yield.”
The combined data could provide information including crop yield, soil conditions, irrigation and fertilization needs; canopy growth and color and maturity of grapes. Digital mapping can help farmers balance quality and quantity of a crop; manage and direct harvesting operations; and help pinpoint varying soil conditions and needs throughout vineyards.
Funding is from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) and includes experts from California State University at Fresno, the University of California at Davis, and Newcastle University in England.
“This project exemplifies what the specialty crop industry has been looking for from SCRI,” said John Aguirre, President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, and Chairman of the NGWI Board. “Because of grower involvement, the project reflects an industry-driven research agenda to ensure the outcome will be relevant and valuable to the nation’s grape growers and ultimately American consumers.”
An industry advisory panel has been identified to provide input and guidance during the project that includes Dr. Russ Smithyman of Ste Michelle Wine Estates in Washington State.
Aguirre pointed out that NGWI worked exhaustively with government officials to create a two-step review process for SCRI that allows industry to reviews proposals for relevance and impact, followed by a scientific peer review. The unique approach allows that most important, scientifically valid projects are funded.
Aguirre said, “We believe this is a model for other competitive grants administered by NIFA.”