For grape and wine production to have a permanent place in the nontraditional grape growing regions, it needs to be profitable. If I look at some of the growers in our region, if they factor in even a small cost for their labor, I would expect that many would not see a sustainable profit. While some write off grape production as a ‘labor of love’, and you should only do it if you enjoy it, we need to be more efficient.
The general trend for grape prices in our region is that in many cases there are decreases. This hasn’t occurred in every state to the same degree. Vineyards are a long term investment, so if one compares the shifting of row crop acreage between corn, soybeans, wheat, etc, much of that solves some of the supply and demand concerns in a short time. Since a large portion of the cost of a vineyard is the actual first 3 years of establishment, we can’t expect a yearly ebb and flow of numbers of acres like we do in row crops, so if supply is catching up with demand, prices may take a hit.
While some try and silence these ideas, I think we need to face what might come. In some cases the prices of different grape cultivars will be affected differently.
One suggestion I have made to some growers that have an over planted cultivar or a cultivar that is decreasing in price is too not to suddenly jump out of it and replant. Most of the cost of the vineyard is already been put up and so changing cultivars only adds to that.
If you have a cultivar that might only be selling for $XXX, figure out how you can grow it profitably for that price. You may or may not be able to. Before assuming you can’t, look at some practices you may be implementing that may not be cost effective.
When I communicate with growers or perspective grape growers I am often surprised at some of the practices that they are told they need to do, or practices they think are extremely important.
Here are a few practices that I question whether or not they are cost effective to do. If you do them don’t get offended, but question if the benefit outweighs the time involved, because that is the true question. We can micro manage too, but it doesn’t mean it will always lead to more profit or better fruit quality.
A couple weeks ago I had a question about raking of grapevine leaves in the fall and then shortly after that I came across a recommendation posted online from a grower that stated this was important. While some diseases can overwinter on fallen leaves, I can’t see how taking the time to rake and remove them from the vineyard will lead to an economic benefit for growers using standard pest management.
The same goes for removing all canes after pruning. I am fully aware that they can harbor diseases, but taking the time to pull out every cane is not effective. I have seen some growers with pretty slick ways of removing canes to a point where they can do it efficiently, but in most cases it will not lead to more profit. I recommend going through the vineyard with a flail type mower to shred the canes, leaves, etc after pruning. It will assist in them breaking down more quickly which will lead to less harboring of disease. Keep in mind it is impossible to have a completely sanitary vineyard.
Mowing and skirting are two practices that make a vineyard look neat and tidy, but I question their cost effectiveness to the extent that some are using them. We do need weed control in vineyards, but I have seen no evidence to show that mowing a vineyard twice a week to look like a manicured residential lawn will lead to better vine health and fruit quality. The same goes for skirting vines.
While everyone has their own approach to grape production I think we need to question every practice we implement. Its good business, and it’s good for the vineyard because then you have more time to focus on the practices that truly make a difference. We need to be careful we aren’t making an acre a full time job.