High technology is solving many of these challenges through renewable energy, smart grids, new wastewater treatment solutions and precision agriculture, to name just a few approaches. At the heart of many of these are new artificial intelligence algorithms that drive data processing and resource allocation. But, on a larger scale, if there is one field where big data is worthy of the name, it is in climate modeling. Analyzing all that information, making relevant predictions while showing the effects of extreme weather, is an essential tool for addressing the impact of climate change.
Agriculture as a whole and viticulture in particular will have to adapt to a new normal. This means exploring new technologies for production in extreme weather conditions while reducing its carbon footprint through sustainable practices. Artificial intelligence will become a powerful ally in these two areas.
Promoting more sustainable viticulture
Agriculture and livestock farming are two of the main contributors to climate change. If livestock farming accounts for 14 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, the fertilizer industry releases millions of tons of methane each year. Nitrogen-based fertilizers are also behind the emissions of large amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O). As a greenhouse gas, it is the most important after carbon dioxide and methane. Any initiative aimed at reducing fertilizer consumption will therefore become a way to combat global warming.
Having a better understanding of what is happening in the field, together with the right tools, makes it possible to apply the exact amount of fertilizers and pesticides that the vineyard needs. And that’s a possibility that artificial intelligence opens up, along with the IoT or Internet of Things. An example of this would be a GPS-equipped fertilizer tractor that can release its payload following instructions given to it by an IoT platform. Another example would be a high-precision irrigation system capable of delivering water only to specific water-stressed areas. Or a pesticide-carrying drone that would enable surgical intervention in vineyards affected by disease.
And the wine industry, timidly at first, but with increasingly firm steps, is already moving towards sustainability. In 2011, concern for sustainable winegrowing practices led the Spanish Wine Federation to endorse the Wineries for Climate Protection initiative. This certification covers four key pillars: reduction of greenhouse gases, efficient water management, waste reduction and use of renewable energy.
Forecasting future vineyard yields
The term “Convolutional Neural Network” (CNN) may not sound too familiar, but it is the name of a potentially revolutionary new technology. Researchers at the University of Illinois have created this new type of model to predict crop yield response to management and environmental variables. CNN is a decision support system (DSS) that uses deep learning to analyze soil electroconductivity, topographic variables or added fertilizers to predict yields. The combination of these factors can explain the variation in yield rates, but only a complex system such as CNN can detect these patterns efficiently.
Increasingly rich satellite data and information from other sources, such as local weather stations collated with global weather patterns and evolving vineyard yields, open the door to robust predictive analysis. By processing information from other wine-growing areas and appellations around the world, artificial intelligence, with solutions like CNN, will provide accurate predictions about a vineyard’s future yields. Because perhaps the solutions of a lifetime are no longer sufficient to deal with unprecedented climatic challenges.
As mentioned in a previous article on the impact of climate change on viticulture, higher average temperatures will lead to more sugar and less acidity in grapes. This may lead to more alcoholic and less richly nuanced wines. However, the availability of data from the different wine regions of the world will allow decisions to be made in this regard. Analysis of factors such as bud break, veraison and harvest dates, as well as the phenolic values of each grape variety, and their evolution over time, together with climate change patterns, will be critical in choosing appropriate grape varieties. This, in turn, could enable the desired flavors and aromatic expression to be obtained more reliably.
The challenges of climate change are complex, as is climate research itself. However, powerful tools such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data will help grape growers and wineries adapt to and survive an unprecedented transformation.