Starting a vineyard is exciting, but it also presents some unique challenges that new growers are often unprepared for.
You have to be wary of things like pests and diseases or make sure you’re not overfertilizing your soil. Not to mention, finding an experienced crew that can handle complex and skilled activities in the vineyard.
All of that can be overwhelming – unless you have a great plan in place to avoid, or at least combat these THREE top challenges for new growers:
Challenge #1: Designing and implementing a pest and disease management program
What to do:
- Create a list of all possible pests and diseases and an inventory of all the products that might be needed to treat and prevent them.
- Solar radiation is underrated as one of our most effective fungicides. It’s something that will actually prevent not only diseases from growing but also something that will help dry out your canopy. That means there’s less moisture available for those diseases to take hold. Good canopy management will help maximize solar radiation.
- Identify any of the environmental threats that can be minimized prior to planting the vineyard in general.
- Have an expert review your plan and see if they could identify any gaps before you encounter them on your own. An expert could be a university extension professional, a more experienced grower, or a regional consultant in your area.
Challenge #2: Knowing when, where, and what to fertilize, and why
What to do:
- Analyze the soil in each planting block prior to planting your vineyard to identify the nutrients that are limiting.
- Apply soil amendments prior to planting, whether it’s a specific single nutrient or a broad-based nutritional amendment like compost or manure. This prevents deficiencies in vines during the establishment phase.
- Understand nutrient mobility – recognize that some nutrients may be adequate in the soil based on your soil test. For example, when water or rain is entered into your soil, phosphorus does not move with the water to contact your plant roots. Nitrogen, on the other hand, moves in the mass flow, and it can move quickly with irrigation or rain.
- Use a balanced approach. Too much fertilizer can burn roots and cause vine death in extreme cases.
- Sample soil before planting and make all adjustments based on your soil test results. Then sample again after amendments have been worked in to the soil.
Challenge #3: Finding and managing vineyard labor
Vineyard work ranges from monotonous tasks like raising trellis wires or hoeing weeds to complex and skilled activities such as dormant pruning, shoot thinning, and crop dropping. The latter activities need experienced workers that know how to approach each vine.
However, it’s difficult to find year-round work activities to keep even a small crew busy if the vineyard is your only farming endeavor.
What to do:
- If you’re a large enough vineyard (10 acres or more), hire a vineyard manager or at least one or two seasonal workers that will guarantee you’ll have workers during critical activities such as dormant pruning and shoot thinning.
- If you have multiple projects on the same farm, rotate workers from one position to another, especially if they’re not at the same time of the season.
- The best success comes from vineyard owners who develop their own in-house crew and retain them over time. It’s one thing to get a good worker and spend two to three years training them. But then you also need to retain them because if they move on, you will have to spend another two or three years retraining that new worker.
Being aware of these challenges and knowing how to avoid them will help you prepare as you soon start your own vineyard. If you want to learn more about how to approach these challenges as a new grower, check out www.vineyardundergroundpodcast.com/004