Federal Grant to Help Farmers Accurately Predict Crop Yield, Manage Resources

The National Grape & Wine Initiative (NGWI) announced today it helped secure $6 million over four years in federal funding for research to develop and apply new technologies to transform the way grapes are grown throughout the United States.

Funding comes from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which just released the first continuation grant installment of $2,357,674.

Led by award-winning scientists Drs. Terry Bates of Cornell University and Stephen Nuske of Carnegie Mellon University, the research project will focus on using technology to create digital maps that will allow farmers to zero in on the conditions within their vineyards and significantly enhance their ability to predict crop size, according to Jean-Mari Peltier, president of NGWI.

This project will build on the work of an industry funded pilot project that demonstrated tremendous promise in developing tools for precision vineyard management,” Peltier said. “We believe it will lead to the commercialization of hardware and software that will benefit growers of wine, juice, raisin and table grapes, nationwide.”

Employing both novel and off-the-shelf sensor technologies, the industry pilot project has resulted in the ability to create digital management maps of soil, canopy and the crop. Of particular note is the new prototype crop estimation tool, which can be attached to common vineyard equipment and takes thousands of images per minute, providing a far more accurate view of grape clusters.

“It is impossible to overstate the value this technology will provide in improving grape farmers’ ability to apply the right management practices at the right time and right place in their vineyards,” said Peltier. “Our goal is to increase vineyard production by 20 percent and decrease vineyard variability by 30 percent.”

The combined data holds the promise of providing a wealth of information to farmers, including data about crop yield, soil conditions, irrigation and fertilization needs; canopy growth and the color and maturity of grapes. Additionally, digital mapping can help farmers balance quality and quantity of their crops; manage and direct harvesting operations; and help them pinpoint the varying soil conditions and needs throughout their vineyards. “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 from day one, it 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.”