You Need To Have Flexibility In Your Vineyard

A full rain gauge is pictured at Zephaniah Farm Vineyard in Leesburg, VA. (Photo Credit: Tremain Hatch)
A full rain gauge is pictured at Zephaniah Farm Vineyard in Leesburg, VA. (Photo Credit: Tremain Hatch)

Vineyards represent a great deal of work. Planning, pruning, canopy management, spraying, — all require people, time, and energy. The fashion with which these tasks are completed can be very different between a one-person operation with half an acre versus a team of people taking care of a 100-acre vineyard. However, in both these situations it can be difficult to get the work completed within a given time frame.

Vineyard tasks are seasonal by nature. Late winter and spring are times for most of the canopy management jobs and autumn brings harvest season. During these busy periods in the spring and fall there are often more tasks than available time. It’s critical for a manager to prioritize duties to maximize the benefit to the operation with limited resources.

Challenges Abound
In Virginia vineyards, challenging weather can disrupt the flow of vineyard tasks. Most often these challenges come in the form of rainstorms that keep workers out of the vineyard while increasing disease pressure.

Two recent examples in Virginia showcase these challenges. Springtime wet spells — like we saw in May 2016 — where canopy management tasks and sprays must fit into narrow windows of clear weather. Maybe even more challenging, in both 2015 and 2016 Virginia grape growers faced multi-day storm systems during the peak of harvest.

Split ‘Cabernet’ grapes like the ones shown are compromised fruit that should have been harvested before a rain storm. (Photo credit: Tremain Hatch)
Split ‘Cabernet’ grapes like the ones shown are compromised fruit that should have been harvested before a rain storm. (Photo credit: Tremain Hatch)

Time Crunch
During springtime wet spells there are few dry hours in which to get out and spray the vines as well as make canopy management passes. Let’s lay out a situation. Mid-May shoots are 3 feet long; it’s rained for a week.

The two pressing demands are to spray protective fungicides on the vines and get a pass through the vineyard for shoot position. Both are necessary and important for controlling disease pressure.

There are number of ways to proceed, but knowing the top priority blocks will help in deciding how to proceed. Different criteria can be used to make determine precedence, such as crop value, disease susceptibility, or potential for crop loss.

Compromise works too. Instead of blocks receiving full attention for shoot positioning, perhaps just movable catch wires are moved or clips are used and a more complete pass for shoot positioning can be conducted when a bit more time is available.

The same can apply during harvest, when storms are forecast. Which crop is most important to get into the winery or what crop can’t handle the rain? These are decisions that we all make during the growing season and harvest. The scarcer the time, the more prioritization will be necessary.

These challenges are part of agriculture; they are exciting but stressful. A good manager embraces these challenges and ends up with the best possible outcome.

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