A data collection project currently being conducted by the Nova Scotia Community College could add up to a better tasting bottle of Canadian wine.

The college’s Applied Geomatics Research Group is several years into a monitoring project to assess the impact of weather conditions on vineyards in the province’s Annapolis Valley. The group has been working with the Grape Growers Association of Nova Scotia on the project so far and operates a network of 14 meteorological monitoring stations across vineyards and other agricultural sites in the region.

“At the end of every month, we travel out to these different sites where we have the instrumentation deployed, we collect the data, we bring it back to the lab and we analyze and summarize that information and post it on a Web site so that the growers and others that have interest have access to the data on a monthly basis,” said David Colville, a research scientist with the group.

Data is collected year-round, he added. The grower’s association is most interested in the results during the peak months of the grape growing season, but data collection continues through the colder months because, “without winter minimums, they don’t know the whole story,” said Colville.

But these monitoring sites are, in some cases, quite remote, making data collection a challenge. The research group has set 75 temperature logging points in addition to the 14 main sites, so the price of gas alone makes the trips expensive, said Colville.

But those trips will soon become unnecessary. Telecommunications provider Aliant will invest $100,000 over three years to support wireless research and development in the college. Some of that funding will go directly to Colville’s project. The donations of cash and equipment will help him establish a wireless network so weather data can be collected and monitored remotely.

By having more immediate access to meteorological data, the Grape Growers Association “can make better informed decisions about what’s going on in their vineyards and when’s the best time to spray and other kinds of things,” said Colville.

The project is primarily being conducted as an educational experience for the half-dozen students that make up the research team, but the college is looking at ways to commercialize the research.

There is interest in the project beyond the growers association, said Colville. Scotia Weather Services, a local forecasting body, is keen to have access to the group’s data, since it could be generate weather forecasts for individual farms.

The Community Health and Epidemiology department at Halifax’s Dalhousie University is also interested in the research since it could be useful in shedding light on the relationship between humidity, temperature and human health.

Colville said the research group is weighing its options, but is considering developing the work into a business opportunity, either with Aliant or other third-party providers. “If we can train people and assist them in employment opportunities, we get a win-win all the way around,” he said.

Aliant is currently viewing its $100,000 donation as purely a research grant, but that might change as the research develops. There is no business agreement in place at the moment, but the company may become more directly involved in the research at a later date.

“Hopefully somewhere down the road, something will come out of this in terms of business opportunities. If that doesn’t happen, at least we’re investing in education and understanding of wireless capabilities,” said Paul Pothier, director of wireless business marketing for Aliant.

Colville said the process of implementing the wireless network for the meteorological stations is underway. The group has converted two of the 14 stations and the remainder will be completed in the coming weeks.

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