Operating a vineyard is an unending task — one will never run out of jobs to do and chores to make the farm operate better. Making time to visit other farms will help you find ways improve your own.
Change is ongoing. New technologies, tools, pests, chemistries, and plant materials are frequently entering the market. As old fashioned as it sounds, sometimes the best method to understand something new is to see it in person. To visit a farm and walk around with the farmer is an effective approach to communicate new practices and techniques.
Seeing how peers face challenges can lead to new resourcefulness your own farm. We all work hard with the tools we have; seeing how our neighbors accomplish the same tasks may help push toward finding a better way to face challenges. Or you may realize you have an improved technique compared to your neighbor, and you can share helpful information with that neighbor.
Extension meetings, association meetings, and other social groups provide platforms for growers to get together and talk shop. However, these are often held at a non-production facility. Visiting a production facility and having an opportunity to tour it and talk through the processing and infrastructure on-siteprovides a platform to discuss and see how the production takes place.
Countless times I have witnessed growers getting together and talking about completing the same task, say planting grapevines. They use language that makes it seem the same protocol was used. However, they actually go about planting in very different ways: some use a mechanical planter designed for grapevines, some use a modified tree planter, some use augured holes, and some use a spade shovel.
There is more than one correct way to complete the task and by sharing the benefits and pitfalls of each grower’s experience, mistakes can be avoided. Even small tweaks can improve the efficiency of the farm operation. Labor and time is extremely valuable, so improving productivity can affect the bottom line.
Helping Your Neighbor Can Help The Industry
Networking and community building takes place on these farm tours and visits. These connections may be a future business opportunity or a conduit to share information about a new threat or opportunity.
It is helpful to consider your neighbor growers as colleagues rather than competitors. In some cases, proprietary information will need to be kept on farm, but in most cases helping one’s neighbor makes for a more resilient industry. This benefit of information sharing is particularly true when cellar door or direct sales to consumers takes place on the farm. In these cases, the consumers’ experience is important, so it makes sense to know what your neighbors are providing.
Work with your local Extension agent or association to suggest more farm tours. Whether you tour farms that are close or tour farms that are far away — there is always something to learn. Neighboring farms often have shared environmental conditions, whereas farms separated by a great distance may offer a completely new method of accomplishing a task. Viewing how others complete mundane, demanding tasks such as suckering grapevine trunks or cleaning picking bins at harvest can provide different techniques for accomplishing these tasks.
I learn something new every time I walk through a field with the grower. Great improvements for your operation are waiting for you. We have a great deal to learn from one another.