As we approach the end of the season, it’s time for the 2023 vineyard season-end review. In the latest podcast episode, we went into detail on the past year from a viticulturist’s perspective. We’ve seen trends in vineyards across North America, including some things that worked and others that didn’t. Below are a few of the common successes and failures from 2023.
Growers moving to mechanization: One success is that many growers added mechanization techniques such as trimmers, canopy hedgers, and mechanical weeding and harvesting. This shift towards mechanization helped to reduce labor costs, address labor shortages, and ensure optimal timing for vineyard management tasks. By utilizing mechanized equipment, growers are able to perform tasks in a timely manner, minimizing delays caused by crew unavailability. Even small growers with 10 acres or less have started adopting mechanization one vineyard task at a time.
Positive trend in canopy management timing: Another success in vineyards in 2023 has been the increased focus on canopy management timing, for tasks, such as thinning, leaf removal, and fruit dropping. There is a short window for each canopy and crop management task, and growers have made efforts to get them done in time to improve fruit quality and reduce disease pressures. Well timed vineyard passes can reduce overall labor and cost as well. Anyone who has shown up to the vineyard late for shoot thinning can attest to the extra time and effort it requires to get the job completed.
Upswing in the use of biological products in vineyards: Another trend in vineyards has been the adoption of biological products such as biopesticides. These products incorporate natural elements derived from animals, plants, bacteria, microorganisms, and minerals. One advantage of using biological products is their short reentry interval (REI), which allows growers to physically work on the vines soon after making a spray application. The non-toxic nature of these products eliminates any concerns, so you can usually get right back in after spraying or harvest shortly after an application in many cases. The use of biological products in both conventional and organic management programs can offer additional modes of action for controlling pests and diseases and can serve to reduce resistance development by these problems.
Drought and extreme heat impacts: Unfortunately, vineyards faced significant challenges due to drought and extreme heat in 2023. Insufficient water quantity and poor water quality affected some vineyards, leading to issues such as vine collapse, fruit shriveling, and crop loss. Many growers failed to perform tests on their water for salt, boron, and other factors, furthering the problems caused by the drought and heat. Irrigation strategies should shift in a vineyard with poor or marginal water quality, including the addition of leaching fractions to help push salts below the root zone of vines. Growers with good water quality may have lost some production due to underwatering vines during hot periods.
Spray program mistakes: A few vineyards out there ended up with disease outbreaks that could have been prevented. Too long of spray intervals increase the risk of fungal diseases, such as downy or powdery mildew. Additionally, inadequate canopy management, particularly during critical periods such as two weeks before bloom and six weeks after fruit set, further added to the problems. Also, in some cases disease outbreaks were a result of equipment failures during critical times, when proper servicing was neglected.
Excess fruit due to lack of solid contracts: The lack of solid contracts became problematic when a bumper crop was realized in many regions. Especially for growers with late-ripening varieties, as the extra fruit took up tank space quickly with the earlier ripening varieties. Without proper contracts in place, buyers were not obligated to purchase the surplus fruit, causing significant losses for the growers. A written contract would have helped in these cases.
We hope you learned something new about the good, bad, and sometimes ugly of the 2023 growing season.
Learn more at our free live virtual learning event on the 2023 vineyard successes and failures on November 1 at 6 PM CST. Register here: https://www.virtualviticultureacademy.com/product/2023-vineyard-successes-failures/
If you want to learn more about the successes and failures of the 2023 growing season, check out https://www.vineyardundergroundpodcast.com/vu030