Willamette Valley Vineyards is using a special band of ultraviolet light, called UVC, to help preserve it’s prized wine grapes.
“In our research, we found that the special band of light also kills powdery mildew a fungus that grows on the leaves on the clusters of our vines,” WVV founder Jim Bernau said. “About 90% of our crop in growing wine grapes is dependent on us making sure powdery mildew doesn’t affect it.”
Bernau says the winery is working with the USDA and Oregon State University, as well as Cornell and Washington State Universities, to study the benefit of UVC light and test its effectiveness in controlling powdery mildew when the fungus’ defenses are down at night.
Willamette Valley Vineyards installed UVC light treatment in their HVAC systems in May, after studying how it was being used to help combat the spread of coronavirus. Now the winery is testing out an experimental machine, equipped with UVC light bulbs, on its grapevines.
“So what we do is turn on these bulbs and run this machine down through the vines at night and the light kills the fungus is growing on the leaves,” Bernau said as he pointed at the experimental machine that’s mounted on the winery’s tractor.
Bernau says the UVC light produces no side effects to the environment, while current farming techniques use sprays, like fungicides.
“This could replace the use of fungicides that farmers use to kill powdery mildew, but its also for us cause we grow organically– it could replace the use of us spraying with organic sulfur,” Bernau added. “It’s far more sustainable in the way we grow our wine grapes.”
Bernau adds that researchers have found that UVC light also helps control a second fungus called Botrytis, which typically poses a threat to wine grapes later in the season.
“We think this could revolutionize agriculture… it could reduce the cost of farming and it could increase the environmental sustainability of all farming activities,” Bernau said.
The winery says the three universities are working together to take it a step further and develop an autonomous robot that would carry the UVC device through the vineyard at nigh to potentially eliminate having to use a tractor.