Brock knowledge mobilization research aims to help Niagara grape growers

Niagara grape growers require access to research to make informed decisions about the best ways to manage their crops. This means researchers and intermediaries, such as crop consultants and advisory personnel, need to get emerging findings to them as quickly as possible.

To help aid this process, Kaitlyn Carr, a Brock Master of Sustainability Science and Society student, has been gaining an understanding of factors that facilitate and hinder the flow of knowledge related to grapevine viruses.

“Over the last decade, Canadian vineyards have experienced widespread outbreaks of viruses that threaten the quality and quantity of grapes grown, a vital topic of concern for the wine industry,” says Carr.

Through her thesis, “Exploring the Role of Knowledge Mobilization in the Adoption of Integrated Pest Management for Grapevine Viruses in Niagara,” Carr has been looking at how Niagara’s grape and wine region has been sharing research within its network.

A hand holds a grapevine leaf with reddish-purple discolouration from the Red Blotch Virus infection.

The crimson to purple colouring on this leaf indicates the presence of a Red Blotch Virus infection on this grapevine in Niagara.

There are more than 80 different known grapevine viruses, of which a handful can seriously impact vine health and may result in vine death. Many of these viruses are transmitted by insect vectors, making management even more challenging.

While Carr’s research looked at all viruses impacting the grape and wine industry, growers are most concerned about managing the grapevine red blotch virus and grapevine leafroll-associated viruses, which are present in and negatively impacting Niagara vineyards.

“These major viruses can have serious economic implications,” says Carr. “When a vine becomes infected, it can impact the sugar content of the grapes, something that is especially important for the quality of wine grapes.”

As Carr sought how knowledge of grapevine virus research was being shared and used, she found Canadian research efforts in the past 10 years have grown exponentially, providing more knowledge for intermediaries and growers to enhance their understanding of these viruses and implement effective management strategies.

“As research efforts have increased, there is more knowledge for growers to access,” says Carr. “We are seeing a lot coming out of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), and from other research centres based in Vineland, Ontario and British Columbia, and internationally.”

Helping to mobilize the knowledge are boundary organizations — groups that work to develop relationships between researchers and scientists and the community and users of the information, including growers and intermediaries.

Among the barriers identified, growers severely impacted by grapevine viruses highlighted the need for access to virus-free vines and financial resources to be able to implement management practices. Ongoing research is being done in Niagara to address these challenges.

“Ensuring research addresses growers’ needs is key for effective knowledge mobilization,” says Carr. “Brock’s CCOVI is one boundary organization playing a major industry role.”

A headshot of Kaitlyn Carr

Kaitlyn Carr is a second-year master’s of Sustainability Science and Society student.

CCOVI has enhanced industry outreach in recent years with scientists whose roles are dedicated in part to knowledge mobilization.

Another way Niagara-based boundary organizations and intermediary groups are trying to reach growers is by offering conferences and webinars and hosting outreach activities throughout the year, such as field days and farm tours to generate research interest.

“We are thrilled to be able to work in Niagara on this research. Kaitlyn’s work has a lot of practical relevance to our community,” says Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair Julia Baird, who is co-supervising Carr.

Accumulating and synthesizing published research on this topic from Canada and the U.S. over the past 10 years, Carr’s work will also provide an overview of current knowledge on grapevine viruses and identify gaps.

“Much of the research done to date in agriculture is quantitative, economic and demographic,” says co-supervisor Amy Lemay, who is an ESRC Adjunct Professor and CCOVI Fellow. “Knowledge mobilization requires a holistic understanding of how farmers make decisions about adopting agri-innovations. This study was designed to discover insights into what’s working and where there is room for improvement.”

To learn more about Brock’s environmental sustainability research and programs, visit Brock’s ESRC website. More information about grapevine virus testing services can be found on the CCOVI website.

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