Grape growers, crop weathering the dryness
Drought means grape growers will harvest better-quality fruit, but those growing conditions also bring negative consequences, according to growers around Illinois.
Published: Jul 10, 2012
“In years like this, the vines put forth all the effort into the fruit. The fruit will be good quality,” said Butch Browning, vineyard manager for Blue Sky Vineyard, Makanda. However, the grapes probably will produce less juice, he said.
Growers around the state are encountering hot, dry conditions on top of an early, warm spring. Some growers are coping with a double whammy of drought following a spring freeze.
In Vermilion County, Joe Taylor estimated the April frost took 40 to 50 percent of his crop when three or four varieties were hard hit. “A drought on top of that. We’re getting a double whammy,” said Taylor, owner of Sleepy Creek Vineyards, Fairmount, and an Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association (IGGVA) director.
While the fruit quality will be good, Taylor anticipated less tonnage when he harvests his 10 acres of grapes.
Fox Valley Winery, Oswego, escaped the frost but is coping with hot, dry weather in Kendall County, said co-owner Mike Faltz. The vineyard has the option of irrigating, he added.
Pest problems this season have produced both positive and negative consequences.
The lack of rain has reduced diseases and weeds. “That’s one thing; we’re saving a small fortune. Fungicide applications this year have been spread further apart,” said Blue Sky’s Browning.
Likewise, Browning has had fewer problems with Japanese beetles compared to a typical year and hasn’t needed herbicides to keep the weeds in check.
Birds, however, soon may be a problem because they will eat grapes as a source of moisture, said Gene Meyer, owner of Bay Creek Vineyard, Pittsfield, and an IGGVA director.
The Pike County grower said he planned to put fine-mesh nets over his grapes to protect them before the robins, woodpeckers, and cedar wax wings damage the crop.
“It’s unbelievable how quickly birds will take a ton of grapes. Some years the birds don’t bother you and some years they eat you up,” Meyer said.
Meyer, who also raises grapes for Rolling Hills Vineyard near Pittsfield, lost some early varieties to the spring freeze, while other varieties “look pretty good,” he said.
“We need a good rain -- like everyone else,” Meyer concluded.
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