Researchers Look at Efficient Vineyard Technology to Evaluate Field Conditions

Two Cornell researchers with the goal of using high-resolution sensors to help vineyard growers find nutrient deficiencies have been awarded a grant worth $676,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Terry Bates, senior research associate at the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory, looks at efficient vineyard technology to assess field conditions. Image Credit: Dan Bell/Provided.

The researcher duo—including Terry Bates, who is a senior research associate at the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory, and Justine Vanden Heuvel, professor of horticulture—hails from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Like most plants, correct nutrient consumption is vital to fruit yield and vine health. However, determining deficiencies in magnesium, potassium, nitrogen, and other key nutrients is a laborious, difficult, and costly process for vineyard managers.

It involves gathering leaves manually at the time of the growing season and mailing the samples to a laboratory for analysis.

Apart from being an expensive routine, in New York state, nutrient levels can differ considerably from one location to another—even in an individual vineyard block—as a result of differences in the soil type. Due to such difficulties, growers normally opt for a one-size-fits-all method, instead of fine-tuning their management acre by acre.

In the case of vine nutrition, growers usually tend to use fertilizers throughout the whole vineyard blocks, rather than only sections that required it most.

Over-applying fertilizers like nitrogen can contribute to leaching issues, which is especially undesirable in wine regions near bodies of water. [But] data from [our new] sensors can tell growers exactly which portions of a vineyard block need fertilizer, reducing the area that receives an application.

Justine Vanden Heuvel, Professor of Horticulture, Cornell University

A measurement mechanism will be developed by Vanden Heuvel that integrates both satellite imaging and ground-based sampling to measure where nutrient deficiencies are. Moreover, some vineyard sampling as part of the method will enable growers to efficiently do what Heuvel calls “ground truthing”—the use of real numbers to reinforce satellite measurements, which guarantees that growers obtain accurate data.

According to Vanden Heuvel, one of the advantages of this tracking method is its affordability and accessibility to grape operations of all sizes.

Already, Bates has been analyzing vineyard health via the Efficient Vineyard Project (EVP), and he will put this understanding to develop nutrient sensors.

The EVP collects sugar content, yield, canopy, and soil sensing data to produce typical vineyard maps to assist managers in the assessment of the quality, productivity, and growth of plants in commercial vineyards. Then, growers use this data to make more precise maps of their vineyards to better support their management practices.

Bates will work together with Jan van Aardt, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Imaging Science, to design new proximal nutrient sensors that detect deficiencies before they can be spotted by field workers.

Bates and van Aardt have been matching ground measurements with remote imaging measurements to fix a standard for vineyard nutrition health. Along with the sensors, this will enable growers to make real-time nutrient management choices.

The most important part of the project is to help growers manage vineyards more efficiently with a focus on profitability and environmental sustainability.

Terry Bates, Senior Research Associate, Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory, Cornell University

Bates and Vanden Heuvel’s grant is part of a total grant worth $4.75 million; collaborators on the entire grant are researchers from Washington State University, the University of California at Davis, Oregon State University, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Of the entire grant, $1 million has already been awarded, with the remainder dependent on the project’s development.


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