Cornell Researchers have partnered with Norwegian company SAGA Robotics to develop autonomous robots that can roam vineyards at night armed with ultraviolet lamps that can kill powdery mildew, which is a pathogen that devastates many crops, including grapes.
The robots are being field tested on Chardonnay grapes at two sites: Cornell AgriTech’s research vineyards in Geneva, New York, and at Anthony Road Wine Co. in Penn Yan, New York.
Cornell has been researching the use of UV light to kill grapevine powdery mildew for nearly 30 years. They have also worked with the University of Florida on using it to control powdery mildew in strawberries.
The UV treatment has been shown to suppress powdery mildew over a period of two years with the application of treatments once a week. The technique represents a breakthrough because the mildew can adapt to chemical anti-fungal sprays in a single season, making them ineffective. UV light damages DNA, but mildews have natural biochemical defenses that are triggered by the blue light present in sunlight. By applying the UV at night, when there is no blue light from the sun, the defenses of the mildew are defeated.
In earlier trials, the researchers used UV lamps mounted on a tractor wagon, but this required all-night labor to treat an entire vineyard. That has now been replaced with autonomous vehicles that can work seven nights a week, all night long.
The next development will be imaging technology that will detect and quantify mildew on grape leaves. With this, the dose of UV light applied to a particular vine will depend on whether it is sick or healthy.
A high-tech solution to a problem that plagues vineyards.
Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Onofre/Twitter.