Nova Scotia Growers Map Risks, Opportunities $1 million grant enables study of climate impacts on grapes, wine and sales

Truro, Nova Scotia—A million-dollar research project is nearing completion with the aim of helping Nova Scotia’s wine industry map growth opportunities and assess risks associated with climate change.

Supported by $1 million in funding from Agriculture and Agri-food Canada’s AgriRisk Initiatives program and managed by the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture (NSFA), the project is modeling climate impacts on all aspects of the industry from grape production to wine sales.

“It will take into consideration the various components, right from the grapegrowing, wine production (to) distribution and consumption,” said Joanne Moran, secretary of the Grape Growers Association of Nova Scotia, who sits on the governance team for the project.

The initiative will bring together existing mapping projects and new modeling tools to give growers a better idea how various climatic conditions could affect their expanding operations.

Nova Scotia growers have embraced a provincially funded vineyard expansion program launched in 2015 that allocated $1 million to expand acreage to more than 1,000 acres by 2020, up from 658 acres at the time. The acreage is tended by approximately 70 growers, with key vintners including home-grown Devonian Coast Wineries Ltd., while Ontario’s Andrew Peller Ltd. has also been scouting acreage.

The region’s flagship variety is L’Acadie Blanc, which has emerged head and shoulders above a bin of lesser known hybrid red and white varieties that dominated the industry just a decade ago. Sparkling wines from the province attracted international acclaim in 2017, but shifting climate patterns and more volatile weather could change what is possible to grow in the province.

“We can’t take just the land base that we have now,” Moran said. “If we want to expand the industry, then we need to know other microclimates within the province, other areas where specific varieties will grow better.…What is climate change going to do to the various areas within the province, how will it impact the varieties we can grow?”

The models developed as part of the current research project will give growers data that can be updated as more information comes available five, 10 and 20 years down the road.

A phenological approach will give better insights into how vines could respond to changes in climate over the long term and frame the effects in a Bayesian network that, according to a presentation to the NSFA last spring, “will help understand the impacts of risks at various places in the grape and wine value chain and the impacts that changes in one part of the chain have on the others.”

Among the examples are the risk of certain types of disease and the potential economic impact of these as well as the effect of climate on fruit quality or the quality of particular grape varieties introduced as climate variables shift.

Meredith Flannery, project manager with the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, said the adaptable, interactive nature of Bayesian network models will provide a good foundation for risk assessment work well into the future.

“You can add and remove and update these areas of interest or risk or nodes as more data becomes available and another risk becomes identified. So, it has a long-standing lifespan,” she said.

Flannery is particularly interested in the mapping component.

“It’s bringing together a variety of layers of information, layers of data that are being created through the project, including the climate-related information. It will produce what we’re calling a grape suitability map,” Flannery said.

The maps will integrate climate and soil data with local bylaw and zoning information that will help growers identify the best places to plant.

“When we’re looking at risks, it’s highlighting opportunities as well,” Flannery said. “We understand that changes in climate are risky because, we don’t know how they’ll affect agriculture, but by bringing the understanding of how things could potentially change…together with information about soils and land use and land use change, it could potentially point to opportunities.”

Originally approved in January 2017, the project will wrap up at the end of March 2018. Data collection and model construction took place through September 2017. The preliminary models underwent testing last fall, and the next three months will see further testing and refinement of the models.

“There’s a lot of data collection and modeling that’s happening right now,” Flannery said this week.

The successful completion of models for the Nova Scotia grape and wine sector will provide a foundation not only for further work within the wine industry but also other segments of the NSFA’s membership.

“There will be a foundation there,” Moran said. “Once you have that modeling in place, you should be able to take this and lift it to another geographical area.…It becomes something that can be used across the country.”

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