Home Industry News Economics Improvements at OSU-SOREC Catalyze Viticulture Research to Address Climate Change

Improvements at OSU-SOREC Catalyze Viticulture Research to Address Climate Change

Aging infrastructure is a nationwide problem that impacts our daily lives and drags down our economic productivity. From an agricultural research perspective, aging infrastructure hinders our ability to conduct high-level, innovative, and impactful studies that aim to solve complex problems related to agricultural sustainability and natural resource conservation. As the founding college of OSU, the College of Agricultural Sciences (CAS) recognizes this fact and that many of its facilities are long overdue for renovation and/or renewal. CAS strategically invests its resources across all its units to improve capital infrastructure that will allow it to continue conducting its three key missions of research, teaching, and extension.

The Capital Infrastructure Renewal (CIR) program is one such mechanism through which CAS invests funds specifically to repair and modernize existing facilities at our off-campus locations, including branch experiment stations like the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center (SOREC). The CIR funds are allocated to CAS each biennium by the Oregon State Legislature and are distributed to units after an evaluation of requests by the Deans. Requests that include matching funds from the unit are typically more favorably evaluated.

In the previous biennium, SOREC was generously awarded CIR funding for two projects: a complete upgrade of our farm irrigation system (including mainlines), and new walk-in coolers for long- term cold storage. With a $72,000 match from SOREC, CAS invested $376,000 to fund these two projects critical to our operation and collective mission. These upgrades promise to further catalyze the viticulture research program from vine to wine.

Farm irrigation system: Designed and installed by Hydro-Flow, our new irrigation system consists of a new pumping station and all new mainlines that conserve energy and labor. Two 20-hp pumps connected in series to a variable frequency drive (VFD) deliver on-demand irrigation water up to 700 gallons per minute through a new network of gasketed PVC. The pumps are self-priming, so once the system is charged in the spring, irrigating any part of the farm requires simply opening the valve at the block level (either manually or by remote control). A new self-cleaning filtration system was included as well, with filtration down to 100 microns. By comparison, our old system featured a suite of 50+ year- old pumps (max total power of 80-hp) that were not self-priming, had no VFD, only coarse screen filtration, and required nearly 1.5 hrs. to prime and get up and running (i.e., making sure enough valves were open across our fields such that there were no explosions!). Thus, we have cut our power consumption in half and saved valuable labor hours. With our new system installed, we can conduct all manner of irrigation and fertigation studies – such as our new Rootstock Drought Tolerance project jointly funded by the Oregon Wine Board and the California Grape Rootstock Improvement Commission – that will allow us to answer complex questions regarding grapevine productivity and drought tolerance in the context of climate change.

Walk-in coolers: Designed and installed by Northwest Mechanical Group, LLC, our three new walk-in coolers feature improved insulation together with remote temperature control, monitoring, and diagnostics. The cooler configuration consists of one larger room (15’ x 13’ 10”) and two smaller rooms (15’ x 10’ 9”). Entryways are wide enough to fit a standard pallet which bolsters workflow efficiency. With improved temperature control, these three rooms expand our ability to consistently produce and store wines from our various field experiments, from primary fermentation to bottling.

The future: In the current biennium, we have requested more funding from CAS to completely renovate our non-functional controlled atmosphere (CA) storage rooms into sophisticated plant growth chambers. Our current CA rooms were installed in 1994 and have not functioned properly since prior to 2016. Moreover, research needs have shifted away from CA-related questions, and towards climate change impacts on plant growth and development, as well as on pest and disease risk. If approved and built, these new growth chambers will allow SOREC researchers to investigate how increasing CO2, temperature, and drought conditions might affect crop production at a more fundamental level than ever before. – By Dr. Alec Levin, Director and Viticulturist, OSU-SOREC

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