A Light in the Dark

August 2021

As the start of the grape harvest—typically a time of celebration—August seems to have brought a shroud of darkness. The late summer sunshine has been overshadowed by devastating flooding, deadly wildfires and extreme heat. It can be hard to find any positivity.

This month, a report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offered a faint glimmer. Although we’re past the point of no return on climate change, it says, we can prevent things from getting worse. The UN Secretary-General called the report “a code red for humanity.”

Much of the work NGRA and our industry stakeholders are focused on can be seen through the lens of climate change. Pests like the glassy-winged sharpshooter are persisting through warmer winters and spreading to regions that were once unsuitable for them. Pesticides, fungicides and even nutritional applications in vineyards are now viewed as contributors to poor soil health and greenhouse gas emissions, and in at least one case (the now banned chlorpyrifos), hazardous to human health. Drought and heat are drying up wells and aquifers in the West, limiting water availability and sparking wildfires. Ferocious summer storms batter and waterlog fruit in the East, just as it’s reaching ripening. And elongated growing seasons present the newly persistent threat of late-winter freezes that can kill a crop before it even begins.

These are all issues that science can solve. With research priorities of genetics and grapevine improvement, natural resources and the environment, integrated production systems, and extension and outreach, NGRA seeks to steer the grape and wine industry and the scientists who support us toward solutions. New varieties that ripen later and can withstand pests, diseases, heat and drought. Vineyard soil treatments to improve carbon sequestration and water holding capacity. Grape treatments that can resist smoke or excess moisture infiltration. Technology that can track threats or pinpoint quality and yield parameters for smarter, safer and more efficient harvest. New methods and support for extending research outcomes to industry. And there are more blue-sky ideas out there, waiting to be hatched.

I have always admired the long view NGRA members take of science. They work together to identify and activate research that may not even yield results in their lifetime. It’s a sort of faith born of action. But in the words of Greta Thunberg and her fellow young climate activists, “The world’s climate scientists have made it clear that the time is now—we must act urgently to avoid the worst possible consequences.”

If there’s a ray of light in the darkness, it’s science.

Donnell Brown
NGRA President