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Frost forecasting project receives government backing

Published:  23 February, 2024

A frost forecasting project for grape vines has secured over £300,000 in funding from Innovate UK and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Called ‘Smarter Forecasting, Communication and Management of Frost Risk in Vineyards’, the project will enable vineyard managers to make more informed, targeted, and sustainable choices when responding to frost events.

The project is led by sensor manufacturer Terraprima and agri-tech facilitator Agri-Epi Centre, with the support of education provider Plumpton College, vineyard and winery consultancy Vinescapes, vineyard monitoring solution Vinewatch, weather forecasting provider WeatherQuest, and WineGB, the trade body for the English and Welsh wine industry.

The site-optimised forecasting will be available through an app, which will deliver frost alerts to mobile devices. Sensors have already been installed in various sites across Sussex and Oxfordshire, including Dillions Vineyard, JoJo’s Vineyard, Ridgeview and Quarry Wood to assess frost risk at a micro level. 

By combining weather forecasting models with mapped frost risk assessments and real-time on-site measurements from the sensors, the project will launch site-specific forecasts of both frost risk and frost type.

Commenting on the project, Ben Gillingham, MD of Terraprima, said: “This important and exciting project brings together some of the leading players in UK viticulture to improve the sector's resilience against one of the greatest yield threats we face. The Terraprima Ladybird is ideal for accurately capturing the highly localised climate data required for accurate frost forecasting and we look forward to helping protect UK vines both during and after the project.”

The number and severity of UK spring frost events causing vine damage varies yearly and can contribute to significant yield loss in bad years. With climate change leading to warmer springs and an earlier budburst (the time when vines are at risk of damage), UK vineyards are expected to remain vulnerable to impactful frost events. 

The UK currently has just under 4,000ha under vine and this is projected to hit 7,600ha by 2032, according to figures published by WineGB.

Phoebe French, membership engagement manager at WineGB, added: “Frost events can significantly affect grape yields and require vineyard managers to be on alert throughout the night, often for days on end. This project will give vine growers greater control of their frost management and hopefully their sleep schedule.”

The project, which will last for two years, was funded by Innovate UK’s ‘Farming Futures: Environmental Resilience, Feasibility’ competition, a collaboration between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the UKRI Transforming Food Production Challenge.