JMU News

Engineering capstone helps Charlottesville vineyard improve crop health

by Eric Gorton



Keeping track of 40,000 grapevines from the ground has its challenges, especially when it comes to determining places that need a little more irrigation than others, or maybe a little more, or less, fertilizer than others. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to in-person meetings, a team of senior JMU engineering students was working with Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville to address those difficulties from the air with a drone and special cameras. 

The drone-mounted cameras take multispectral images that enable the farmer, John Watkins, to clearly spot problem areas in the vineyard from the air. The images can show Watkins where special attention to things such as irrigation, soil remediation and cover crop is needed. Images from the multispectral camera show areas in different colors based on different indices, which are various mathematical combinations of the separate images. The most commonly used index in agriculture is NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index), which makes the health of plants readily apparent, said Brian Schieber, a member of the engineering capstone team who also works at the vineyard. Watkins uses the difference in health and vigor to see where action is needed. 

The team is also working on designing a web app that will provide easy access and analysis of the images in the field and where notes can be made about the images and information about specific vines can be recorded. 

The team collected five data sets during the fall semester and will be sharing their work on Wednesday during Day 3 of the virtual Madison Engineering xChange event, which starts at noon today. Each session will feature senior or junior engineering capstone teams presenting their projects virtually from noon to 1:30 p.m. 

Team members on the vineyards project, in addition to Schieber, of Stafford, are Isaac Miller of Jonesville, Dominic Coradazzi of Lynchburg, Ernest Benner of Berryville, Justyn Girdner of Falls Church, Jacob Ortiz of Bristow, Parth Patel of Stanley and Zachary De Bey of Stafford. 


Media contact: Eric Gorton, 540-908-1760, 

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Published: Monday, April 20, 2020

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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