Burgundy winegrowers hail hi-tech crop shield

By Daily Teelgraph

By June, the entire area will be protected by 125 generators. Photo / Getty Images
By June, the entire area will be protected by 125 generators. Photo / Getty Images

The vineyards of Burgundy are about to become the first in France to be covered by a "hailstone shield" against storms that have blighted the region.

By June, the entire area will be protected by 125 generators that send silver iodide particles to the clouds, where they stop the formation of lethal precipitation.

The move follows several years of severe hail storms in the region. Macon and Chablis were particularly hard hit last year.

Burgundy's regional association for the study and fight against atmospheric issues (Arelfa) has raised funding for the technology from frustrated wine producers.

"Hail storms have increased in recent years, the intensity is greater," said Arelfa president Thiebault Huber, who produces reds and whites on his 4ha.

"Since 2001, it's been terrible. When it hails, sometimes 90 or even 100 per cent of the grape harvest is lost. It's more and more frequent.

"We lost a huge amount of money and feared for our future. We decided we couldn't just sit here waiting for the hail to imperil our crops."

Some generators were installed after disaster struck in 2014, but now the entire 42,000sq km area will be protected, including the Maconnais, Beaujolais and Chablis districts.

The system is also used in wine regions of Bordeaux and southwestern France, but does not provide blanket coverage.

"The idea is to kill the storm before it arrives and avoid hail forming," Huber said.

The generator has a combustion chamber, which heats the particles and sends them more than 500m into the sky.

A weather forecaster sends alerts four hours before a predicted storm and the generators are switched on as soon as the risk hits 40 per cent probability.

The technique is only effective in 48 per cent of cases, and although alternative solutions exist, they have other drawbacks.

One is to protect the vines with netting, but this is about 30,000 ($45,500) a hectare, and many deem the nets an eyesore in a region that has just been awarded Unesco world heritage status.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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