Microsoft Corporation

11/29/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 11/29/2021 11:29

Saving the wine, one grape at a time, from the perils of late-season frost caused by climate change

The system "not only provides real-time and forecast data for all sensor locations but also sends text or email alerts to growers' and farmers' smartphones," says Strassmayr.

Global warming has affected not only wine growing, but also apricot, apple and peach orchards in Austria. With budding happening earlier in the season, it leaves crops more vulnerable to the effects of late-season frost.

The problem isn't specific to Austria, which is among the top 10 wine producers in Europe. This year, in France - the No. 1 producer in Europe and one of the top producers worldwide - the country's wine-growing output was down 29 percent, a historic low, because late-season frost "cut down a good part of the production," the French Ministerial Statistical Service for Agriculture said in September.

According to the World Weather Attribution initiative, human-caused climate change made the damaging frost event in France about 60% more likely. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in the U.S. found that if temperatures rise as expected by 2 degrees Celsius, regions of the world that are suitable for growing wine grapes could shrink by as much as 56 percent.

"In some ways, wine is like the canary in the coal mine for climate change impacts on agriculture, because these grapes are so climate-sensitive," said one of the authors of the 2020 PNAS study.

TietoEVRY, which is headquartered in Finland, put the monitoring system into place in September 2019. The pilot project will end in September 2022, when all the data will be evaluated.

"We set up a collection of cloud services in Azure that we call an accelerator platform and can easily adopt new use cases from customers even beyond agriculture," says Strassmayr.

"It doesn't matter if the sensors are somewhere outdoors in a field, or somewhere in a construction site or a manufacturing site. The processing is basically always the same. The scale differs of course. Here we have, for now, 300 sensors in the fields in Austria, but in a manufacturing center, you might have thousands of sensors in hundreds of places all over the world."

TietoEVRY Austria set up a similar kind of system for two large Austrian companies that supply materials for construction industries, and together, have more than 200 production sites and over 3,200 production lines. The system is helping them increase overall efficiency by measuring production data.

The ARGE FrostStrat project "is one use case for a specific agricultural area, but there are thousands of use cases where we can help to make everybody's life easier and simpler with such solutions," says Robert Kaup, TietoEVRY Austria general manager.

"The feedback from the participating farmers shows us how valuable a digital early warning system, intelligent measurements and small-scale forecasts are."

"Digital transformation is rapidly evolving even in conservative sectors like agriculture," says Jutta Grabenhofer, Microsoft Austria sustainability lead, who is working with TietoEVRY on the pilot. "While there is the perception that only large-scale producers can benefit from digital technology, this use case shows that smaller businesses also can benefit from using IoT and data analytics to increase efficiency."

Christian Hofmann says monitoring programs like ARGE FrostStrat's may also help shape the future of how agricultural land - a finite resource - is used.

"There are long-term decisions to be made about things like the raw usage of land that historically have been decided upon based on intuition or gut feelings, or because 'it has always been that way,'" he says. "That has led to over-consumption of irrigation, heating and infrastructure - you name it, because we don't use the facts. And climate change is so rampant that most of the 'old wisdom' is not relevant anymore. The data that we're collecting here helps to drive the emotions out of the decisions, which is always tough. It's a second perspective that should not be underestimated."

Rudi Hofmann agrees. As an organic wine grower, he wants to continue following his dream with his winery, but he wants to do it more smartly and sustainably.

"What I see for the future is that we will know much more about the data in our vineyards, and we have the possibility to produce more sustainable crops than we do at the moment, than we did the last century," he says.

"We have to plant the right fruit on the right place, and then we have to monitor it, and take actions in the right moment with the minimum of impact to the environment."

Top photo: Lower Austria is one of the main wine-growing areas in the country. The area is located north and west of Vienna. Photo courtesy of Rudi Hofmann.