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App to warn grape growers of spring frost secures £300,000 funding

Grape growers will receive vineyard-specific forecasts of frost risk via a mobile app after the innovative project secured £300,000 in government funding.

Spring frost is a major issue for anyone managing a vineyard in the UK, as it can contribute to significant yield loss.

Climate change is leading to warmer springs and buds are bursting earlier, leaving them vulnerable to subsequent bouts of frost.

Sensor manufacturer Terraprima, agri-tech business Agri-EPI Centre, Plumpton College, consultancy Vinescapes, vineyard monitoring company Vinewatch, forecaster WeatherQuest and Wines of Great Britain (WineGB) have joined forces to combat the problem.

Sensors will be installed at six vineyards, spread across East Sussex, West Sussex, Oxfordshire and Surrey, to assess frost risk at a micro level.

The team running the project will combine forecasting models with mapped frost risk assessments and real-time measurements from the sensors. That will allow them to deliver site-specific forecasts of both frost risk and frost type.

Vineyard managers will receive frost alerts directly to their phones via an app, giving them a chance to protect any vines that are at risk. The data will allow them to use the intervention techniques that are best suited to the hyper-local forecast conditions.

Eliot Dixon, the head of agri-tech engineering at Agri-EPI Centre, said it will provide ‘a vital early warning of frost risk to vineyard managers, at a precision never achieved previously’.

He added: ‘This uses a fusion of weather modelling, IoT [Internet of Things] sensors and remote sensing to create a robust and commercially relevant solution that shows the very best of UK agri-tech.’

Dillions Vineyard (West Sussex), JoJo’s Vineyard (Oxfordshire), Tanhurst Estate Vineyard (Surrey), Plumpton College (East Sussex), Ridgeview (East Sussex), and Quarry Wood (East Sussex) are the vineyards taking part in the two-year project.

The partners have secured more than £300,000 from Innovate UK, the government-run innovation agency, and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

‘We know early season frost risk is a significant concern for many producers and it’s being enhanced with climate change and an increase in climate variability, but the good news is that with the right tools and equipment, we know the risk can be reduced and managed – and that’s what we aim to support through this project,’ said Vinescapes CEO Dr Alistair Nesbitt.

Phoebe French, membership engagement manager at WineGB, noted that the prospect of spring frost leaves vineyard managers on high alert for days and nights on end.

‘This project will give vine-growers greater control of their frost management – and hopefully their sleep schedule!’ she said.

If it proves successful, this approach could lead to a wider step-change in UK vineyard frost resilience as it is rolled out across the country.


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