NASA offers eye in sky for Va. vineyards

Staff Writer

(June 23, 2015) Answers to some questions about how Virginia’s growing wine industry can best move forward might come from above in the future.
No, not from God, necessarily. More like NASA.
The agency recently finished a project that allows the state’s wine producers to get a better look at their industry using aerial imagery shot from planes and satellites thanks to NASA’s DEVELOP program, part of its Applied Sciences Program at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
“There’s growing demand for Virginia wine, but supply is having trouble keeping up with that demand,” said Kenton Ross, national science advisor at DEVELOP, which brings in young professionals to work on projects that apply NASA research toward practical ends — such as using aerial imagery to map Virginia’s grape fields. “Getting a firmer picture of where the current acreage exists, I think, is something.”
Work on the project stretched from last fall into this spring, Ross said. NASA teamed up with the state agriculture department and the Virginia Wine Board, which sought the results.
The imagery allows producers to better see where the industry can more easily expand and combine it with other data on items such as land temperatures and sun exposure — important data in the search for ideal expansion spots, Ross said.
The detailed imagery allows the viewer to see up to one foot on the ground per pixel, he said — close enough to easily identity the patterns created by grape trellising. NASA was initially given addresses for each of the state’s vineyards, and the agency used them to trace the plots and calculate acreage.
State leaders praised the project.
“One of the greatest challenges facing Virginia’s world-class win industry is the need to plant more grape vines so that fruit production can stay ahead of wine sales, which have reached record high levels over each of the last six years,” state agriculture Secretary Todd Haymore said. “Through our partnership with NASA DEVELOP, Virginia winery and vineyard owners now have another tool to help them better analyze where current fruit production is occurring.
“Perhaps more importantly, this work can lead toward analysis regarding where future planting and what types of grape varietals should occur.”
A second project with NASA partnered with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and Digital Harvest, a Virginia company using drones in agriculture.
They were using NASA’s imagery to gain a better understanding of how often farmers need to irrigate fields with the goal of decreasing water waste and lowering costs.
“We want to make sure that as we’re doing research that the practical applications of what can be done with NASA research are getting their own attention,” Ross said.