Zoom! Went the Strings of My Heart

The NGRA Board of Directors meets three times each year and last week, on November 19, we convened for the last time in 2020. As with all pandemic-era meetings of far-flung people, our Board members gathered virtually, via Zoom, across all continental U.S. time zones for a very productive meeting–signaling an exciting year ahead for our research mission. What were some of the meeting highlights? Read on!

Most significantly, we welcomed a new At-Large Representative to our Board. Jennifer Montgomery, Consulting Director of new NGRA member-organization, the Arizona Wine Growers Association, was unanimously elected. We welcome Jennifer and the Arizona grape and wine industry and their unique research perspective to NGRA!

The Board also unanimously voted its support for a fellowship with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR)–a step made possible by the 2018 establishment of the NGRA Research Fund. The three-year FFAR Fellows program provides professional development and career guidance to the next generation of food and agriculture scientists. It will enable us to work with impressive Ph.D. students from the beginning of their careers, working on priority science in our research theme areas. It also will provide NGRA a new avenue to engage with the greater scientific community via FFAR, an independent nonprofit organization partially funded by the USDA that supports innovative agriculture science with the potential to fill critical knowledge gaps.

Similarly, recognizing the fact that many early-career scientists have joined (or initiated) grape-related research programs in the last few years (and some more established researchers have moved into new roles), our Board approved a new effort to meet and interact with them. Through a series of in-person and virtual forums throughout 2021, NGRA members will engage in two-way dialogue with these new voices in meetings, workshops and roundtables organized around timely issues-oriented themes. The series will kick off with our first Board meeting in January 2021.

A much-anticipated element of the End-of-Year Board meeting was the reports on the research brainstorming-and-prioritization process led by Research Theme Committee Chairs Franka Gabler (Genetics and Grapevine Improvement), Anji Perry (Natural Resources and Environment), Russ Smithyman (Integrated Production Systems) and Keith Striegler (Extension and Outreach). Meetings of the Research Theme Committees held from Summer to Fall 2020 culminated in project ideas ranging from development of an in-field fruit-quality sensor and monitoring and metrics for healthy vineyard soils to exploration of broad-spectrum grapevine immune responses and the state of viticulture and enology extension in America. These ideas will come to life in planning grant proposals in January.

One project that emerged from our research process in 2019 is now in the grant proposal stage, and was presented by co-PIs Matt Fidelibus (UC Davis – Kearney Agricultural Center) and Glenn McGourty (UCCE – Mendocino and Lake Counties). The project, “Online Guide to Grapevine Varieties and Rootstocks in the United States,” seeks to provide an online repository of variety performance data from trials across the U.S.

And we received a final report on the SCRI-funded Efficient Vineyard project, produced for us as a 10-minute video┬áby PI Terry Bates (Cornell University). Supported by NGRA as a pilot study in 2012 and funded by SCRI in 2015, Efficient Vineyard focused on actualizing variable rate vineyard management by measuring (via sensors), modeling (using data) and managing (via prescription maps) throughout the season. The project officially concluded this year. The video references the Flash sensor for canopy and color development, a product of this project that’s in commercial development now. And it speaks to next steps for this work as part of another NGRA-supported, newly SCRI-funded project, “High-Resolution Vineyard Nutrient Management,” led by PI Markus Keller (Washington State University).

Administratively, the Board set both a budgetary course for 2021 and a schedule of Board meetings to include in-person gatherings as soon as June 2021 in Monterey, CA, pandemic pending. This time next year, we hope to meet in St. Louis, MO, hosted by longtime member-organization, the Missouri Wine & Grape Board. Fingers crossed!

As Board Chair Russ Smithyman reported, despite all the distractions and worry of 2020, NGRA accomplished a lot. My heart swelled with pride as we discussed the many ways we maintained focus on solving industry challenges through science and looked ahead to continuing and, in some cases, initiating, a sense of community among those in industry and academia who believe in the power of grape research.

Many thanks to our officers, Board and committee members, and stakeholders for their unwavering support in such a weird year. And here’s to a happy, healthy holiday season. We have much to be thankful for.

Donnell Brown