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Western New York grape harvest off to good start

Across the Western New York region, grape harvesting season is under way — and for some types of grapes, finishing off nicely.

Harvest season for grapes usually occurs around September and October, depending on the type of grape and location. Grapes such as the Niagra have finished harvesting while Concord harvesting is still going on.

“Across the region early ripening varieties have been harvested and processors finished up with Niagara grape harvest,” said Jennifer Phillips Russo, team leader and viticulture extension specialist for the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program. “The Niagara harvest finished very well. The quality was excellent, and it was a very clean crop. Growers did an excellent job this year in terms of insect and disease control.”

Phillips Russo said the Concord grape crop is also looking better than it did last year, even though there are still some concerns about shelling and the grape berry moth — one of the key pests of the grape industry. So far though, the incoming grapes seem to be clean and of good quality.

“The Concord canopies — leaves — are definitely mature, and it was mentioned that they look a lot better than last year,” Phillips Russo said. “One representative mentioned that powdery mildew is just starting to show up in the vineyards with top-shelf spray programs, which is outstanding considering the amount of rain and high humidity levels the last few weeks that encourage disease.”

The grapevine shoots of this year are also harvesting off well — something known as periderm — and there is hope for great crop potential for next season.

Periderm formation and dormancy begin after veraison, or when the fruit softens and matures, Phillips Russo said. The grapevine shoots begin to turn brown from the base of the shoot outward, as the water-resistant periderm forms. Next year’s crop potential is already in the hardening canes, she said, and after harvest the vine food produced by remaining leaves is converted to starches and moved into permanent parts of the vine for storage, which will again support early shoot growth and development during the next growing season.

“Taking care of grapevine canopies is very important to healthy and sustainable grape growing,” she said.

STILL CONCERNS

Even while the harvest season continues on a high note, the spotted lanternfly — a newer invasive species of moth that is extremely harmful to the grape industry — remains a concern as it has recently been discovered in the Buffalo area. Community members are reminded to kill a spotted lanternfly on sight and to report it to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets if spotted.

Another concern for the remainder of the grape harvest season is the weather.

“Harvesting in the rain is not ideal,” Phillips Russo said. “Large machinery needs to travel up and down the grapevine row middles, which can compact the ground beneath it and stunt grapevine root growth. It also disturbs the ground making further passes more difficult. There is also a dilution effect that can occur with rapid water uptake, that may affect the soluble sugar levels lowering them. We are hoping that the weather will cooperate for our growers and processors.”

Phillips Russo added that LERGP works with local farmers and producers to get through such challenges that come with things like the weather and the spotted lanternfly.

The Lake Erie Regional Grape Program consists of Extension Educators and research faculty and staff from Cornell University and Penn State University that cross state lines to bring local experience and research-based solutions together. The program tries to increase yields, product quality, diversity and improvement of cultivars, make production more efficient and help farmers adopt environmentally sound cultural and pest management strategies.

“We all work very closely together with growers and industry representatives to help our regional grape growing industry be resilient and sustainable for years to come,” Phillips Russo said. “Our regional agriculture specialists are on the front lines helping farmers overcome steepening environmental and economic challenges, using the latest farm modernization and labor development tools, pest and disease management techniques, and by facilitating access to emerging markets.”

According to Phillips Russo the Lake Erie American Viticulture Area, is the largest grape growing region in the Eastern United States. Lake Erie provides the right climate for more than 30,000 acres of grape production in both Western New York and Pennsylvania.

“Eighty percent of that acreage is Concord grapes, but we also have wine grapes, and modern hybrid grapes bred to perform much better in our climate,” Phillips Russo said. “Two-thirds of the grapes processed in our region go for juice, jam and jelly. Our Concord industry competes in national and international markets. Our Concords grown in this region also make up 40% of the grapes grown for wine in NY and PA.”

Lastly, Phillips Russo said as the harvest season continues on a high note, the economic impact of the grape industry is felt in a good way.

“The Lake Erie AVA economic impact has over $80 million in equipment and buildings and over $125 million in land,” Phillips Russo said. “There is over $50 million in grower-owned processing facilities and it provides over 1,500 vineyard, juice processing, and retail jobs. Our region brings in over $30 million in farm gate sales and $172 million in retail products. We are very proud of our grape growing industry stakeholders and of all the time, energy, and efforts that grape growing and processing requires.”

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