Research Priorities Refresh: A Labor of Love

Continuing from my report on the Midyear Board Meetingon June 26, 2023, in Napa, I’m turning the lens to the research focus of the NGRA Midyear Board meeting on June 26. Our robust agenda included in-depth reports on ongoing and prospective new research, and most importantly, included an exciting update of our industry research priorities to guide future exploration.

NGRA’s research priorities are the foundation of our research mission, finetuning our focus on catalyzing and supporting research to solve the grape and wine industry’s most pressing collective needs. The most recent iteration of our research priorities was created in 2017. But after the challenges and opportunities of the last few years, it was time to revisit.

NGRA’s Research Committee is comprised of four sub-committees, each representing one of our research theme areas: Genetics and Grapevine Improvement, Natural Resources and Environment, Integrated Production Systems, and Extension and Outreach. Twelve people—industry and academic appointees—serve on each, representing a cross-section of commodity sector, geographic region and subject-matter expertise. They gathered this past spring and considered our existing research priorities in light of advances in technology (AI and machine learning, data storage, modeling, robotics, automation, vehicle autonomy), forces of climate change (wildfires and smoke, historic drought, dwindling water and labor availability, intensifying storms, rising heat, killing frosts), breakthroughs in grape genetics and new variety development, and even changes in the supply chain, meeting tools and technology, and issues of trust in science brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The result of their deliberations was a crisp, concise restatement of research priorities that’s broad yet focused and not overly prescriptive, as we’ve learned that much can change…in ways we can’t imagine!

At the top level, our refreshed research priorities are:

  • Extension and Outreach: Support extension education and outreach efforts for the U.S. grape and wine industry
  • Genetics and Grapevine Improvement: Advance grape genetics and germplasm improvement, and ensure the availability of healthy plant material for the U.S. grape and wine industry
  • Integrated Production Systems: Build improved production systems to ensure the long-term economic resilience of the U.S. grape and wine industry
  • Natural Resources and Environment: Safeguard the long-term environmental sustainability and adaptability of U.S. grape production to the changing environment

Note that the theme areas did not change, but the priorities within each did. See the complete priorities list here.

How do we use these priorities? We communicate them to funding agencies, like USDA, NASA, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and others, to signal what the industry considers our most critical needs. And we use them to enlist the support of the grape research community to address them.

For example, Katie Gold, who leads Cornell University’s GrapeSPEC (Sensing, Pathology and Extension at Cornell) Lab, shared her NGRA-supported research at our June Board meeting. In her presentation, “NASA Acres @ Cornell AgriTech: Integrated Sensing for Managing Pest and Disease Risk,” she explained that Cornell was selected to provide a specialty crop (grape) focus for this large-scale NASA-funded project led by University of Maryland, broadly designed to support U.S. food security. Katie and her Cornell colleague Yu Jiang are using satellite imagery and a newly designed autonomous robot to detect and prevent or manage the spread of grape diseases. Because the project tracks so closely with priorities within our Integrated Production Systems and Natural Resources and Environment theme areas, NGRA provided a letter of support for the project and committed advisory support, and is now a member of the NASA Acres consortium.

We’re proud of the refreshed NGRA research priorities and grateful to our Research Committee members for their generous time and abundant insights. The document can be considered a labor of love and commitment to advancing the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of our industry, no matter what the future brings.