During the 60s, 70s and until 1984 I raised cattle, hogs, corn and soybeans on 250 acres. I started participating in the Crop Reserve Program. In 1989 I sold 160 acres and left the rest in CRP until 15 acres came out of the program. I reserved this acreage for starting a vine yard.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The object of this project is to increase grape production. It is an alternative crop not only for Pike County but all surrounding area with the potential to greatly impact the economy. Wine is essentially an imported product on which Illinois residents spend $800 million or more annually, much more of which could be produced in Illinois with increased grape production.
This grant has been used to expand the five acre vineyard that was already started. With this expansion of five acres that was planted in 1998 and an acre of chardonel (a variety new to this area) I now have 11 acres planted. This expansion will also promote research on the best grape varieties for various regions of the state. For example I have a test plot for the University of Illinois. We have twenty-three different varieties of grapes. There are twelve plants of each variety, some of which are table grapes.
In order to save other growers from making costly mistakes that I have made, any information gleaned from this expansion program will be shared with others.
Keeping close records of each variety’s growth, resistance to disease and production rate will be critical. Increasing the vineyard size and production will be the benchmark of success of this grant.
Due to the press coverage I have received as the first to start a vineyard in Pike County several people have become interested in the grape growing venture. There are three people who have planted several acres and three more that will plant several acres this spring.
We have established a Western Illinois Grape Growers Coop. we plan to promote grape production, sale of Illinois produced wines and hope to build a winery in the near future.
This year I had my first harvest. I harvested 1420 lbs. of white grapes (vignoles) and 160 lbs. of red (chambourcin). The grapes that were planted in 1998 with the help of this grant will produce a partial crop this year. I will not let them bear to full potential until next year. This will make a sturdier, healthier plant. I will report to you how many pounds of fruit they produce.
We plan to plant 1350 plants or 3 acres of the chardenal grape this year. Some other varieties I would like to experiment with are traminette, GR-7, frontenac and some varieties of table grapes.
Some of the people that have been very helpful in promoting grape growing are: Mary Ann Adams, group leader for Pike County Extension Office, Robert Reese works in the Marketing Division of the Department of Agriculture in Illinois, Mike Doherty, Federal Coop Specialist and Wally Furrow, Regional Director Rural Development. Wally has been very interested in grape growing and has spent a lot of time in my vineyard. He has decided to plant some grapes of his own and have a family winery.