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Award-winning WSU research maps suitability of Washington vineyard locations

Posted by | March 17, 2015

Selecting a vineyard site is one of the most important decisions for owners — it can make or break them economically.

Washington State University doctoral student of engineering Golnaz Badr is using data on Washington soil, topography and weather to create a state map and scoring system that could help growers take some of the guesswork out of choosing a new vineyard location.

Golnaz Badr, WSU doctoral student of engineering, has combined Washington soil, topography and weather data into a state map showing areas suitable for vineyards.
Golnaz Badr, WSU doctoral student of engineering, has combined Washington soil, topography and weather data into a state map showing areas suitable for vineyards.

“People are very interested,” Badr said, “especially in an interactive map, so they can zoom in and see their vineyard.”

Working with a team of professors who specialize in weather, grape growing, and crop and soil sciences, Badr began the project in 2011, when she was accepted into the WSU Land, Air, Water Resources & Environmental Engineering Program that focuses on global food industry problems.

“I wanted my Ph.D. studies to do something interesting and useful for viticulture science — something that combined what I’d learned while earning a master’s degree in horticulture and another in geographic information systems, environmental modelling and management,” Badr said. “WSU was already looking for someone to map Washington’s suitability for vineyards, so it was the ideal project for me.”

Badr’s work builds upon a computer model created by Ian Yau, who earned a master’s in soil science from WSU in 2011. Yau compiled georeferenced soil, topography and weather data into a single database, using public data sources.

For example, the soil data used in the model was collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These data, available on the USDA Gridded Soil Survey Geographic Database, offer a variety of useful, location-specific information for growing crops, including available water storage, crop-productivity measures and drought vulnerability.

Washington topography, including slope, aspect and elevation, were derived from the National Elevation Dataset by the U.S. Geological Survey. Slope is the steepness of a piece of land, while aspect is the direction a slope faces, which is a key factor in determining how much sun a location will receive.

In addition to updating the information Yau compiled, Badr replaced the 30 years of monthly weather data from the Western Regional Climate Center that Yau’s model employed. Instead Badr used daily weather data spanning from 1983 to 2012 that she drew from the University of Idaho Gridded Surface Meteorological Dataset.

“The main strength of our model is the inclusion of daily weather data because we were able to do climate zoning based on that,” Badr explained.

Using a scale of zero (“not suitable”) to one hundred (“highly suitable”), Badr rated existing vineyard locations in Washington that she derived from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service CropScape maps. The average score was 55, categorized as “suitable.”

Because the vineyard locations and weather information are from national sources that cannot verify all their data, Badr is now using Google Earth and AgWeatherNet to investigate questionable results, weed out errors and improve the mapping model. She wants to ensure the parameters that went into making the map actually reflect what’s out in the field.

Badr (right) won first place in the graduate student poster category at the Washington Association of Grape Growers conference, for her research on land suitability for growing grapes.
Badr (right) won first place in the graduate student poster category at the Washington Association of Grape Growers conference, for her research on land suitability for growing grapes. WSU graduate students Leslie Holland (middle) and Zachary Cartwright (left) won second and third place, respectively.

Badr plans to finish evaluating the initial results by early 2016, with the goal of making the map a helpful, public resource for people who want to establish vineyards in Washington.

Commercial growers looking to site a new vineyard have access to the compiled data through WSU viticulture extension specialist Michelle Moyer. She reviews the environmental factors that contribute to a potential site’s suitability and translates those for growers to help them decide whether to plant vines.

A panel of growers awarded Badr’s research first place in the graduate poster category at the Washington Association of Grape Growers annual conference in Kennewick, Feb. 10-13, 2015. (See a full listing of award recipients.)

The lead advisor on the project is Gerrit Hoogenboom, director of AgWeatherNet. Badr is also advised by viticulturists Markus Keller and Michelle Moyer and soil scientists Joan Davenport and Richard Rupp. The team is based in Prosser at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, except Rupp, who is at WSU Pullman.

– Erika Holmes


March 19, 2015

We apologize for any confusion caused by the vineyard suitability map that was originally published with this article. The research is ongoing, as the article states:

“Because the vineyard locations and weather information are from national sources that cannot verify all their data, Badr is now using Google Earth and AgWeatherNet to investigate questionable results, weed out errors and improve the mapping model. She wants to ensure the parameters that went into making the map actually reflect what’s out in the field.”

However, we should have included a disclaimer in the map caption that it is not complete and not to be used until it is scientifically validated. We have removed the image to prevent further confusion. Thank you for sharing your concerns.