Digital Mapping Could Help Growers Improve Vineyard Management Plans
Cornell University researchers are working on a project that will give grape growers access to digital maps detailing the health of their vineyards at a level never before achieved.
The project, led by Terry Bates, director of the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Lab in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), received $6 million in federal funding.
“The purpose of the project is to be able to measure and manage the natural spatial variability in vineyards,” Bates says.
Mobile sensors are hooked up to tractors or ATVs while growers perform other vineyard activities. For example, there’s a sensor that measures soil electrical conductivity, and another sensor is pointed at the sidewall of the canopy to measure it as the grower drives through the vineyard.
The soil sensors already exist, as do sensors for measuring canopy. A yield monitor is also available that mounts on a grape harvester and can measure the weight of the grapes as they come off the vine. The task now is to create a sensor that can sense what size the crop is early in the season, non-destructively.
Carnegie Mellon University researchers are in the process of developing an ATV-mounted crop sensor that can detect berries as the grower drives through the vineyard. The goal is to do this early- or mid-season to create a spatial map of what the yield is likely to be.
“What we try to do is start layering all this data on top of each other,” Bates explains. “So with soil, canopy and crop, we layer that data and look at the relationships between the data layers and come up with management maps for the grower.”
The ultimate goal is for these layered maps to help growers make wiser, well-informed vineyard management decisions.
“We can get an after-the-fact yield off the grape yield monitor that anyone can buy, but we’re trying to also develop this early-season or mid-season image analysis to give us the same thing, but give it to us at a time when we can actually do something about the crop,” Bates says.
For example, if a crop is too heavy in one side of the vineyard and light in the other side, the crop can be thinned on the heavy side, and growers can prepare for early ripening on the light side, which can help with harvest planning.
Once the sensor development is complete, the next step is to establish and test the variable rate management, Bates says. Researchers will be looking at whether variable rate management does indeed save the grower money by lowering production costs and improving juice quality.
Bates adds that while he began work on the project in New York, the California wine and table grape industries are heavily vested in the project. Four test sites have been set up in California, in addition to one in New York.
“We’re dealing with measuring the fundamentals of vine productivity, so that makes it able to transcend across all the different grape industries,” Bates says. “Whether you’re growing juice grapes in New York, wine grapes in Washington, or table grapes in the San Joaquin Valley, growers want to know how soil affects vine growth, their canopy development, and how canopy development affects vine productivity.”