New technology

 

New tool for forecasting frosts

Innovative frost management project under way in English vineyards…

 

The traditional method of protecting vines from frost events. Photo: Getty Images

New tool for forecasting frosts
  • Chris Boiling
  • 2024-02-27
‘Our project is developing a service which forewarns the location, intensity and type of any anticipated vineyard frost event’

Dillions, an ancient farmhouse with more than 500 years of history, became productive again five years ago, when 10 acres of land were planted with 16,750 vines. Most of Dillions Vineyard in West Sussex, England, was planted for sparkling wine (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Précoce, Pinot Meunier), but there’s a small paddock-like area near the entrance that’s planted with Bacchus (for a crisp still wine) and six rows of disease-resistant Cabernet Noir (for a red wine).
This is the area prone to spring frosts.
Owner David Trott, a former lawyer, has sought a high-tech solution for this common problem. Fourteen Trak365 sensors (below) and a weather sensor feed him real-time data and a heatmap via his iPhone (also shown below).
It tells him when and where to light his bougies from the Crop Candle Company.

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Dillions-weatherwatch
Dillions-heatmap
“These sensors are on 24/7 and we can set an alarm for when temperatures reach a certain low point,” he tells Canopy.
When the alarm goes off in the middle of the night, it’s a mad dash to light the vegetable wax candles and an anxious wait until the temperature stabilises above zero.
Now, Dillions is one of several English vineyards taking part in a trial to develop a frost forecasting app.
The sensors for this (below) were installed in the vineyard a few weeks ago. “As yet, we have received no data from them, and this is mainly for the researchers rather than us,” he explains.

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The frost forecasting tool is part of a project designed to “revolutionise frost-related crop protection”. The project has secured more than £300,000 in funding from Innovate UK and the UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Called ‘Smarter Forecasting, Communication and Management of Frost Risk in Vineyards’, the project will aid the development of viticulture in the UK, the country’s fastest expanding agricultural sector. The aim is to create hyper-localised, site-specific, and variety-specific frost risk forecasts, enabling vineyard managers – and hands-on owners like David – to make more informed, targeted, and sustainable choices when responding to frost events.
The project is being led by sensor manufacturer Terraprima and agri-tech facilitator Agri-Epi Centre, and supported by the UK wine industry’s main education centre Plumpton College, vineyard and winery consultancy Vinescapes, vineyard monitoring solution Vinewatch, weather forecasting provider WeatherQuest, and Wines of Great Britain (WineGB), the trade body for the English and Welsh wine industry.
Sensors have also been installed at JoJo’s Vineyard in Oxfordshire, Tanhurst Estate Vineyard in Surrey, and East Sussex sites Plumpton College, Ridgeview, and Quarry Wood – to assess frost risk at a micro level. By combining weather forecasting models with mapped frost risk assessments and real-time on-site measurements from the sensors, the project will launch site-specific forecasts of both frost risk and frost type.
This site-optimised forecasting will subsequently be available through an app, which will deliver frost alerts to mobile devices.


How big is the problem?

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The number and severity of UK spring frost events causing vine damage varies from year to year and in bad years can contribute to significant yield loss. With climate change leading to warmer springs and an earlier budburst, UK vineyards are expected to remain vulnerable to impactful frost events. This project will enable vine-growers to have a more focused approach to protecting their crop by only concentrating on both the specific areas that have been identified as being at risk and the intervention techniques which are best suited to the forecast conditions.
The UK currently has just under 4,000ha of vines and this is projected to hit 7,600ha by 2032, according to figures published by WineGB.
The project will last two years, and the grant was secured through Innovate UK’s ‘Farming Futures: Environmental Resilience, Feasibility’ funding competition, a collaboration between Defra and the UKRI Transforming Food Production Challenge.

‘This project will give vine-growers greater control of their frost management and hopefully their sleep schedule’

What the players have to say

Commenting on the project, Ben Gillingham, managing director of Terraprima, said: “This important and exciting project brings together some of the leading players in UK viticulture to improve the sector's resilience against one of the greatest yield threats we face. The Terraprima Ladybird is ideal for accurately capturing the highly localised climate data required for accurate frost forecasting and we look forward to helping protect UK vines both during and after the project.”
Eliot Dixon, head of Agri-Tech Engineering at Agri-Epi Centre, added: “Through this project, we will be providing a vital early warning of frost risk to vineyard managers, at a precision never achieved previously. This uses a fusion of weather modelling, IoT sensors and remote sensing to create a robust and commercially relevant solution that shows the very best of UK agri-tech.”
Sam Linter, director of wine at Plumpton College, said: “Spring frost is a significant threat for many grape-growers in the UK, requiring understanding on forecasting and management options. Being involved in such an innovative frost management project, bringing together different approaches and modelling systems, gives our students exposure to the current and developing technologies. Plumpton College is proud to be associated with this research in progress that supports the productivity of the industry and the students’ future careers.”
Dr Alistair Nesbitt, CEO of Vinescapes, commented: “This funding is excellent news for the sector. Through this project we’ll bring together a fantastic skillset to try and develop tools that growers in the UK will benefit from in both forecasting and managing frosts. 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.”
Sebastian Holmes, operations director at Vinewatch, said: “Using established technology in an innovative way to help growers to monitor and mitigate the perils of frost is exciting. We have been developing this approach for some time and we’re delighted to see it finally becoming reality. Our aim is to provide growers with the best precision tools they can get to let them counter an extremely damaging and mostly unpredictable threat to their productivity, sales and profits.”
Marcus Krumins, data scientist at WeatherQuest, said: “Our project is developing a service which forewarns the location, intensity and type of any anticipated vineyard frost event, calibrated to actual vineyard temperature measurements. We’ll support a step-change in UK vineyard frost resilience and help vineyard teams optimise which frost mitigation technique to choose.”
Phoebe French, membership engagement manager at Wines of Great Britain, said: “Frost events can significantly affect grape yields and require vineyard managers to be on alert throughout the night, often for days on end. This project will give vine-growers greater control of their frost management and hopefully their sleep schedule!”

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