Using Lights To Harvest Grapes At Night

Light Up The Night

Seeking to heed that age-old business adage, “The customer is always right,” Mark Houser had long considered employing light towers to harvest winegrapes at night. Vintners prefer cooler grapes, particularly those going into white wines, and fruit is at its coolest just before sunrise, noted Houser, the vineyard manager at Hoot Owl Creek Vineyards/Alexander Valley Vineyards, in Healdsburg, CA.

“We started seeing other people more and more using lights for harvest because the wineries like that cool fruit,” he says. “So we built the light towers.”

Three years ago, Houser, his foreman Isaul Macias, and his shop supervisor Mike Davis constructed three towers outfitted with fluorescent lights. They worked well, so well that this past year the three men decided to upgrade one tower with LED lights, which are about 30% brighter. For this year’s harvest all the towers will have LED lights.

“They’re more durable than fluorescent lights and they provide much better quality light,” he says. “They cost a lot more, but they’re worth it because the difference is just remarkable.”

Beating The Heat

A lot of growers are considering night harvest not only to provide wineries with cooler fruit, but because regulators are really cracking down on heat-related health problems among agricultural workers. The issue really came to a head years ago in California when a 17-year-old pregnant girl died after picking grapes in 95-degree heat in the San Joaquin Valley. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger attended her funeral and promised to do more to protect workers.

This past spring representatives from a state agency charged with nailing unscrupulous employers held seminars aimed at preparing growers for enforcement inspections. The coalition is made up of several agencies including: Cal/OSHA; Employment Development Department; the Labor Commissioner’s Office; and the Contractors State License Board. The coalition has cracked down on agriculture and other industries for a variety of violations, but they’ve emphasized the state’s heat illness prevention rules for employees who work outdoors.

Growers in such hot spots as the Central Valley might want to consider night harvesting. Asked what he would tell a grower considering the change, Houser responded immediately: “Once you do it, you’ll say ‘Why didn’t I do this earlier?'”

Win/Win/Win Situation

Houser is quick to note that beating the heat was only part of the equation for him, as he farms on the North Coast, which generally doesn’t get nearly as hot as the Central Valley. However, it’s certainly a tangible benefit. “Make everybody safe, that’s my first consideration, safety first,” he says. “Besides, these people work hard, and any time you can make it easier for them, you do it.”

In addition to working in the cool of the night, workers like picking in the dark — they usually start at 2 a.m., but will begin at midnight if there’s a lot of fruit to harvest — because they’re more efficient. “It’s easier to pick because the stems are stiffer and you can go faster than when it’s warmer and the stems get pliable, rubbery,” he says. “That applies to leaf-pulling and suckering too. It’s even true for machines — the mechanical leaf-puller doesn’t work as well in the afternoon.”

Houser says about half of their acreage is now machine-picked, and they use the lights on both mechanically harvested and hand-picked blocks. The towers can’t be used in all areas. For example, they don’t work well on terraced hillsides. He estimates that they harvested close to 30% of their fruit at night last year, or about 400 tons of the grapes they harvested.

The towers aren’t cheap to make, about $4,000 each including all materials and labor. But Houser said they are easily worth it when harvesting such pricey fruit so much more efficiently. And he’s not the only one who benefits. “Everybody wins,” he says. “The guys win because they make more money piece rate, and the wineries always want winegrapes cool, white grapes especially.”

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Using Lights To Harvest Grapes At Night

  1. Hello,

    June 2010 issue of the journal article on Light Up The Night of the photo (enlarge) you send us
    Please,

    Thanks,
    Best regards

    m. batal
    Istanbul/Turkey

    Note: Photo very important

  2. Hello,

    June 2010 issue of the journal article on Light Up The Night of the photo (enlarge) you send us
    Please,

    Thanks,
    Best regards

    m. batal
    Istanbul/Turkey

    Note: Photo very important

Grapes Stories
GrapesSulfur Spray Best Practices For Winegrapes
August 14, 2015
New research helps growers determine how close to harvest they can safely spray elemental sulfur. Read More
BerriesScientist Has Sights On Shooting Down Spotted Wing Drosophila
August 14, 2015
Study helps flush out possible biological control for dreaded fruit pest. Read More
GrapesResearch Seeks To Find Better Grapevine Roots
August 14, 2015
Rootstocks have benefits, but research shows there’s no silver bullet. Read More
Disease ControlProtect Hail-Damaged Grape Clusters From Botrytis
August 11, 2015
Recent hailstorms hit Northwest Michigan hard. Grapes, tart cherries, and apples orchards were hit by high winds and nickel- to Read More
GrapesDrought’s Impact On California Winegrapes
July 30, 2015
The impact is minimal this year, but the future is uncertain if the drought continues. Read More
Western grapeleaf skeletonizer moths
GrapesNew Winegrape Pest Found In California
July 9, 2015
Western grapeleaf skeletonizer could mean nasty problems for Napa County growers. Read More
GrapesRaisin Grower Wins Supreme Court Decision On Price Support
June 23, 2015
A farmer who refused to hand over half his raisin crop to the government as part of a New Deal-era Read More
The Latest
GrapesWashington Winegrape Harvest Earlier Than Ever
September 3, 2015
  This year’s juice and winegrape harvest in Washington is historic. Michelle Moyer, Washington State University assistant professor, Dept. of Read More
GrapesWildfires Raise Fears Of Grape Smoke Taint
September 3, 2015
 The current wildfires in Washington have left many growers wondering if smoke taint could impact the flavor of their winegrapes. Read More
Apples & PearsSyngenta Receives EPA Registration For Solatenol  Fungi…
September 1, 2015
The fungicide is available in four product offerings, pending state registrations. Read More
GrapesSulfur Spray Best Practices For Winegrapes
August 14, 2015
New research helps growers determine how close to harvest they can safely spray elemental sulfur. Read More
BerriesScientist Has Sights On Shooting Down Spotted Wing Dros…
August 14, 2015
Study helps flush out possible biological control for dreaded fruit pest. Read More
GrapesResearch Seeks To Find Better Grapevine Roots
August 14, 2015
Rootstocks have benefits, but research shows there’s no silver bullet. Read More
Disease ControlProtect Hail-Damaged Grape Clusters From Botrytis
August 11, 2015
Recent hailstorms hit Northwest Michigan hard. Grapes, tart cherries, and apples orchards were hit by high winds and nickel- to Read More
GrapesDrought’s Impact On California Winegrapes
July 30, 2015
The impact is minimal this year, but the future is uncertain if the drought continues. Read More
Western grapeleaf skeletonizer moths
GrapesNew Winegrape Pest Found In California
July 9, 2015
Western grapeleaf skeletonizer could mean nasty problems for Napa County growers. Read More
GrapesRaisin Grower Wins Supreme Court Decision On Price Supp…
June 23, 2015
A farmer who refused to hand over half his raisin crop to the government as part of a New Deal-era Read More
GrapesCalifornia’s Winegrowers Overwhelmingly Back Anti-Pest …
June 22, 2015
More than 80% of growers vote to continue Pierce’s disease/glassy-winged sharpshooter referendum. Read More
Disease ControlFMC’s RHYME Fungicide Labeled In California And Arizona
June 18, 2015
RHYME fungicide is now labeled for use in California and Arizona  for control of powdery mildew and black rot in Read More
GrapesDeveloping The Grapes Of The Future
June 9, 2015
Through advanced chromosome mapping, VitisGen is working to create hardy and disease-resistant grape cultivars. Read More
GrapesASEV-ES Announces Outstanding Achievement Award Winner
June 9, 2015
Wayne Wilcox will be presented with the award at the 40th Annual ASEV-ES Conference in Dunkirk, NY, in July. Read More
Disease ControlTips For Grapevine Trunk Disease Diagnostics, Preventio…
May 28, 2015
Various pathogens and environmental factors are considered to be major threats to the vineyard’s health. Pathogens are disease-causing organisms such Read More
GrapesDeadline Extended For Crucial Winegrape Disease And Pes…
May 27, 2015
Returned ballots to continue the Pierce’s Disease/Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter referendum must be returned by June 10. Read More
EquipmentThe Benefits Of Vineyard Mechanization
May 27, 2015
Labor accounts for a substantial fraction of the production costs of most fruits, including grapes. Manual harvest is particularly laborious, Read More
Apples & PearsSolve Your Labor Problems From Within
May 26, 2015
Summer is here, which means harvest season is just around the corner. Hopefully you’ll have the crews you need this Read More