Final report for FNE16-849
This project aimed to develop/evaluate a more efficient and economical way to propagate and transplant grape vines. Vines are normally planted using bare root or large potted vines either by hand which is very labor intensive or with a transplanter (some are laser guided) which can also be very expensive. This project is evaluating a method of propagating vines from smaller cuttings into cell plug trays and planted with a much less expensive water wheel transplanter. This method was evaluated in a replicated experiment comparing it to a current standard method of vineyard establishment using hand planting. We found that growing transplants costs 71 cents per vine as compared to purchasing bare root vines for $ 4.72 – Petite Ami and $ 3.98 – Sabrevois. Comparing the labor of planting, it takes ten times the labor to plant bare roots than to run the waterwheel transplanter for the same number of plants. The average cost of a transplanter is $2000, depending on the attachments desired.
Outreach so far took place through two field workshops during the season and later will include a booklet available as either a printed or electronic version detailing the process and the results of this. This project has the potential for a sizable economic impact as vineyards are being established at increasing rates. I have attempted to quantify this impact by establishing cost savings using this method. There are hundreds of vineyards which could implement this method. It could also lead to new or existing nursery businesses growing vines in cell plug trays and possibly some new mobile planting services using this type planter.
The Technical Advisor for this project is Anna Wallace who is the CCE Cooperative Extension Associate Fruit Specialist for the Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program. She worked with me to insure I included the proper methods to use for preventing the spread of diseases and viruses when propagating vines and also getting the proper authorization to propagate patented and protected varieties. She also participated with the second field meeting where we planted the vines in the vineyard.
Jay White is also a cooperating farmer with this project. I worked closely with him in the collection process, methods of callusing the cuttings, sticking those cuttings into plugs and growing those plugs ready to set in his vineyard. Jay also helped plant the plugs at my vineyard in the second field meeting. He also soon afterwards used the planter to set about 4000 vines he propagated using this method in his own vineyard. He made a video of this which I will be sharing in the final report.
The costs in establishing a new vineyard are very high and among these expenses are the cost of the vines and the actual planting process. Over the years there have been a number of methods used in planting the vines. Hand planting is still used in many small to medium vineyards. It is labor intensive and depending on the method can involve laying out the vineyard, the rows within it and some method of making the holes for planting the vines in. Vines themselves come in dormant bare root or some type of growing vine. Some are in pots and some come in a waxed paper sleeve. The bare root vines need a large hole which can be up to a couple feet across and a foot or so deep. These may be dug with either a shovel or some sort of auger. The potted vines also require some sort of hole to be dug. This is time consuming and as stated before labor intensive. Many new vineyard owners lack the needed expertise to perform this task without some training.
Machine planting can be employed in larger vineyards but the transplanters are very expensive with laser guide ones selling for around $200,000. They are not widely available and are generally hired out for planting . You need to schedule ahead of time and hopefully share transportation costs with other vineyards in your area. Tree type planters have been used in the past for bare root vines but the roots need a lot of hand trimming to fit in the trench made by the planter.
To summarize this, the cost of planting a vineyard with current methods is quite expensive (often in the thousands of dollars including the vines) as cited in numerous university studies such as – Establishing cost of production estimates for hybrid grapes Cornell University, Ithaca, NY Miguel I. Gómez and Yijia Tang, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University
This can encourage some growers to take shortcuts trying to trim this expense which can lead to a poorly planted and poorly performing vineyard. The most notable shortcut is beginning operators growing their own vines and many new growers lack the expertise to be successful.
From the research I have done I can’t find anyone who is specifically planting grapes in cell plugs with a water wheel transplanter. Others have taken their own routes in trying to reduce establishment costs especially propagating their own vines. This can be risky as rooting success rates vary so widely. Some have looked at increasing the rooting success. One such project was a recent Farmer Project through SARE. They studied rooting success with and without hormonal treatments among other things.
Project Number: FNC13-932 Type: Farmer/Rancher Project Reducing cold-climate grape establishment costs through the development of a grape propagation system. They were interested in getting a better rooting rate and growth rate. I look to expand that and additionally add an easier and less expensive and easier method of planting. One of the things that makes rooted cuttings or bare root vines expensive is the fact that most of them are grown out of four and five bud hardwood cuttings. Needing that many buds decreases the number of vines that can be propagated through good bud wood. A way to increase the amount of vines obtained from the same budwood could come through reducing the number of buds needed to root a vine.
Through studies I have done in old horticultural literature I have come up with a couple alternatives to the standard four to five bud cuttings- namely single bud and two bud cuttings. I have experimented with single bud cuttings a few times but got very low rooting results. You are relying on both the roots and green shoots growing from the single node (bud) used. I feel that with current methods of rooting, the single bud is just not reliable enough for the average farmer to use. The two bud cutting relies on using two nodes (buds) where one forms the roots and the second gives rise to the green shoot growing . This information can be gleaned from references such as “Propagation of Horticultural Crops” by S. Rajan and Baby Lissy Markose. I have been quite successful in growing thriving vines from two bud cuttings in the past using paper bands plugs and plug trays. The best results have been from the plug trays. I look to use this project to share the success in rooting and growing of cuttings with others to help trim costs. The rooting methods and success in plug trays is only half of the cost savings. The other half comes from growing a vine that can be planted easily and inexpensively. By utilizing the water wheel transplanter planting time and expenses are drastically cut. By growing the vines in the plug trays you are handling several dozen vines at once at each step right up to placing the individual vines out. The people planting the vines ride the transplanter in a bucket seat and gently place each vine in a hole made in the soil bed by the machine. Water is applied at the same time giving the vines an excellent growing environment.
The project looked to root and grow hardwood cuttings of hybrid grape vines in cell type plug trays to be later planted in a vineyard using a common water wheel vegetable transplanter. The cost to grow these vines will be compared to the cost of the same variety of vines purchased from a nursery.
** One point I need to emphasize, especially during outreach sessions, is that many grape vine varieties are protected by patents and royalty programs. The developers and breeders of these varieties have a lot invested into them and deserve to receive their payments. I will obtain any necessary permissions to propagate the vines as needed and pay all royalties due. All outreach participants will be expected to do the same.**
Objective number 1. Use plug trays with smaller 2 bud cuttings (as opposed to traditional 4 to 5 bud cuttings) to propagate more economical grape vines. The process of planting 2 bud cuttings and growing into healthy vines is relatively easy with basic guidance.Propagation work will begin with collection of budwood to be used for cuttings. The buds need to be good viable buds not injured through winter cold, etc. The budwood desired will have internode spacing of two to four inches and no more. The shoots will be cut to manageable lengths for handing, bundles and brought back to storage for processing the cuttings. The cuttings will be selected from the most desirable buds in pairs of two. The proper cuts will be made to ensure the cuttings will be planted the right side up as they will not grow planted upside down. The lower cut will be made slightly below the bud node and will be a flat cut. The flat denotes the base. The cut above the second bud will be about three quarters inch above the bud on an angle. The cuttings will then be calloused which is necessary for root formation. This will take place on a heat mat which is temperature controlled. Once calloused the cuttings are placed into cell plug trays filled with a good rooting and growing medium. The heat from the sun hitting the black or dark gray plastic trays helps to promote root formation sooner. To monitor this heating I will use a soil temperature data logger. This will allow for constant monitoring of the soil temperature. The vines are then grown on in the greenhouse until ready to harden off for a week before setting out into the vineyard. All of the chores needed to grow the vines will be logged for time and notes kept of the activity performed. This way costs can be assigned to the growing of the vine to compare to a purchased price. Costs of the purchased vines will not reflect the royalties paid as the vines grown will pay the same royalty to the grower.
Objective number 2. Use a water wheel for transplanting the vines in the vineyard. A basic water wheel type planter can cost under $2000 and may be rented in some areas inexpensively as they are common in many vegetable growing areas.
The project centered on rooting and growing hardwood cuttings of hybrid grape vines in cell type plug trays to be later planted in a vineyard using a common water wheel vegetable transplanter. The cost to grow these vines will later be compared to the cost of the same variety of vines purchased from a nursery. ** One point I emphasized during this project during outreach sessions, is that many grape vine varieties are protected by patents and royalty programs. The developers and breeders of these varieties have a lot invested into them and deserve to receive their payments. I have obtained all necessary permissions to propagate the vines. All outreach participants will be expected to do the same.**
The first objective of the project was to use plug trays with smaller 2 bud cuttings (as opposed to traditional 4 to 5 bud cuttings) to propagate more economical grape vines. The process of planting 2 bud cuttings and growing into healthy vines is relatively easy with basic guidance. Propagation work began with collection of bud wood to be used for cuttings in early March. The buds need to be good viable buds not injured through winter cold, etc. Normally a live bud count is helpful in selecting the proper wood for cuttings. I will cover this in the final report but this year was not an issue because of the warm winter we had. The bud wood desired should have internode spacing of two to four inches and no more if possible.
The shoots were selected and rough cut to manageable lengths for handing and tied into bundles and brought back to storage for processing the cuttings. The cuttings were selected from the most desirable buds in pairs of two. The proper cuts were made to ensure the cuttings will be planted the right side up as they will not grow planted upside down. The lower cut was made slightly below the bud node and was cut flat. The flat angle denotes the base. The cut above the second bud was about three quarters inch above the second bud on a 45 degree angle. The cuttings were then callused which is necessary for root formation. This took place on a heat mat which was temperature controlled.
Once callused the cuttings were placed into 38 cell plug trays filled with a good rooting and growing medium. The heat from the sun hitting the black or dark gray plastic trays helps to promote root formation sooner. To monitor this heating I used a soil temperature data logger. This allowed for constant monitoring of the soil temperature. The vines were then moved to and grown in the greenhouse until ready to harden off for a week before setting out into the vineyard (target date June 26 this year). All of the chores needed to grow the vines were be logged for time and notes kept of the activity performed. Costs can be assigned to the growing of the vine for comparison to a purchased price. Costs of the purchased vines will not reflect the royalties paid as the vines grown will pay the same royalty to the grower.
The second objective was to use a water-wheel for transplanting the vines in the vineyard. A basic water- wheel type planter can cost around $2000 or may be rented in some areas inexpensively as they are common in many vegetable growing areas. Land preparation was the same for both types of plantings since they are in the same vineyard. In late May the new vineyard was sprayed to kill all the grass and perennial weeds growing there since it was an old hay field previously. Two weeks later the field was plowed with a moldboard plow, allowed to dry for a few days and then disc harrowed smooth. Once prepared for planting the rows were laid out using marking flags with a ten foot spacing. I laid a black plastic mulch over the rows using a raised bed mulch layer. This keeps down weed competition for the young vines which is necessary for quick establishment. 2016 was a dry spring, summer and fall at the location so the mulch also helped conserve water since we did not irrigate for this trial.
At the second outreach workshop June 26 the vines being planted with the water wheel were transported to the vineyard at planting time and loaded on the planter. Normally there is one driver and two people riding on the planter placing vines in the planter holes which were approximately six feet apart. The planter uses water which it applies into the punched hole during planting. We quickly discovered that the soil was so dry that the holes did not form well. As a result one helper rode the planter feeding the vines into the appropriate hole and the second person went behind and pushed the vine into the hole for better contact with the applied water. I have never had to do that before and I am sure it was because of the dryness of the soil at time of planting. This slowed down the process a bit but we were still able to plant each row of 50 vines in six minutes.
The temperature that day was in the low 90’s and with the dry conditions we opted to wait to plant the bare root vines until a later date when it was a bit cooler. June 28th the vineyard received over an inch of rainfall and the temperatures dropped some so on July 4th the bare root vines were planted. The bare root vines were hand planted with the roots spread out into holes dug with a shovel and the hole back filled. Again all operations have their time recorded to give a labor value to the operation. Later this project will compare expenses required for growing and planting the vines grown in plug trays and planted with the water wheel transplanter versus purchased bare root vines planted by hand.
The planting itself is made up of three rows of 50 vines planted with the transplanter and then a row of 50 bare root hand planted vines. This will be replicated two times for a total of eight rows. All vines are approximately 6 feet apart. We also logged progress of the vines as they grew during their first year of development in the vineyard. The measurements were taken and recorded about once a month and pictures taken. Information was gathered on vine survival rate and overall growth the first year. This will help quantify any major growth differences between the two planting methods. Later the project will cover a cost comparison between using the cell plugs/planter and hand planting of purchased bare root vines.
The second years work was marked by more variable weather than normal. The growing season began normal regarding temperatures (although a few degrees cooler) but the rainfalls for April and May were a bit above normal and June and July were twice the normal rains. August and September temperatures were well above normal with average rainfall.
Work with the project began as soon as the snow melted off the vines in early April. At that point a preliminary count was taken for vine survival for both the bare root planted vines and the vines planted from the cell plug trays. This was done for both grape varieties used for this trial. As the vines began to grow any dead ones could be verified by their lack of growth and recorded. The soils in the vineyard became too wet to work for seeding a cover crop of grass between the rows like is normally done by myself. This resulted in weeds growing in between rows and really showcased the main reason I use the black plastic mulch for planting the young vines into – namely weed suppression in the growing zone. Later in the season as the soils dried enough I was able to go through and use a tractor mounted mower to kill most of the weeds. I will need to do the seeding this coming spring in 2018 to get the vineyard back on track.
During the project one of the main goals was to compare costs associated with growing the small vines and planting as compared to buying bare root vines and planting. Survival rate of both types was also compared to help determine if there is any significant difference in the two methods. All expenses were tracked for material costs to raise the small cutting vines along with giving a labor cost to the various operations of the project for raising the vines. This was broken down into a per vine cost and was determined to be 71 cents per vine. See the following spreadsheet for a summary of those expenses. This compares to a cost of $ 4.72 for the bare root vines for Petite Ami and $ 3.98 for the Sabrevois.
Labor costs associated with planting could be determined by each farms’ labor costs per hour. For the purpose of this study I simply compare the time needed for planting an average row of 50 vines with the water wheel compared to the same size crew planting the bare root vines by hand with shovels. At Hid-In-Pines Vineyard with the water wheel it took an average of 6 minutes per row of 50 vines or 7.2 seconds per vine to plant. At the Boquette Valley Vineyard it took approximately 6 seconds per vine planting them. The bare root vines were only planted for comparison at Hid-In-Pines Vineyard where it took 60 minutes per row of 50 vines or 72 seconds per vine with the same size 3 person crew planting them. That means it took 10 times as long planting the bare root vines which would mean a significant cost increase for labor over planting the small 2 bud cutting vines with the transplanter. For each 1000 vines planted it would take between 2 and 3 hours with the planter depending on row length and time needed to turn the planter around, etc. For each 1000 vines planted with the same three person crew it would take 20 hours of labor. If labor costs were $15 per person with 3 people planting it would cost $90 to 120 (45 X 2 or 3) per 1000 vines with the transplanter. Planting by hand the same 3 man crew would use $900 in labor ($45 x 20).
The project proceeded fairly smoothly this year in spite of a few challenges encountered through the seasons. The early project proceeded along with plans and anticipated outcomes. Winter had been fairly mild so obtaining the proper bud wood from the vineyard was easy as there was little bud damage due to extreme cold. The cuttings were made using the two varieties selected for the trial, namely a red, Sabrevois (vigorous) and a white, Petite Ami (less vigorous). The Sabrevois callused easily and pretty quickly giving a nice long period for rooting and growing the vine cuttings out into nice small vines around 12 to 15 inches at planting in a total period of about 2 months. The Petite Ami proved to be a bit more difficult to form calluses taking an extra 2 to 3 weeks. As a result and because of lower vigor of the variety, the vines were smaller at planting – around 9 to 12 inches.
As stated above the spring and early summer were very dry making it more difficult to get a nice bed for planting the vines in. The mulch layer had a more difficult time pulling in and shaping a nice solidly formed bed to lay the mulch over. When the planter punched holes for planting the soil tried to fill back in before the water released into it could soak in good. In spite of the difficulties encountered with this, the vines planted with the planter took off growing and never wilted appreciably after planting. The bare root vines were held an extra week for planting until after we received a one inch rainfall. More help was enlisted for that planting and they began growing soon after.
Jay White of Boquet Valley Vineyard acted as a collaborating farmer in this project and grew approximately 4000 vines using this basic system. I had him come to Hid-In-Pines Vineyard and help me or have me show him how to do the various stages of the system. He would then take that information and skill home to implement at his vineyard. In general he got a pretty good rate of rooting and growth. Some rodent got into his small greenhouse and tipped a lot of the cuttings over led to some extra work. He made sure to close the door in the evening after that. He incorporated most steps of the project but did make a change that I would not recommend. He did not use the plastic mulch over the bed and instead planted in bare soil. Before he planted they received a heavy rain and his soil has some clay in it. Because the wheel did not have the dry mulch to roll over, it would bunch up with soil during planting and would require stopping periodically to clear the sticky soil balls. They were able to plant those 4000 vines over a few days and did save a significant amount of planting time.
As summer proceeded it continued dry overall and limited the growth of the new plantings. The vine growth was monitored visually and pictures were taken but no direct measurements were taken of individual vines. I felt that such measurements would be unrepresentative of normal growth in a normal year since the growing season was atypical with a moderate to severe drought underway. Instead I took pictures of the growth for visual comparison and noted general vine health and vigor. The planting was monitored for disease and insects. Since it was dry in general they received no fungicidal spray. Early in August the Japanese beetles got to a damaging thresh hold so an insecticidal spray of Sevin was applied. That kept them in acceptable levels for the rest of the growing season.
Overall both sets of vines grew fairly well in spite of the dry weather conditions. Survival was very good with only a few vines needing replacement next year in either the bare root vines or the ones planted from the plugs. In general the vines at Hid-In-Pines Vineyard are mostly in the two to three foot range for growth for both sets although the Sabrevois are a bit larger. The spring after the initial planting year typically has the vines cut back to about 2 to 3 buds before bud break. This concentrates the stored energy in the roots to make a stronger larger shoot which will later become the trunk. Because of this any size advantage of the bare root (if any exists) is lost. This initial cutback makes for a healthier more uniform vineyard.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
Before beginning this project consultations were made several times with my Technical Advisor Anna Wallis discussing a range of topics. We covered in depth the value of following proper royalty payments when required. She advised me that there was a number of concerns also from people at Cornell that this could lead to virus spread in newly planted vineyards. A program is in place all over the country to make virus free plant material for planting new vineyards. We discussed educating the audience of this project on what protocols to follow to minimize these concerns and risks. I also discussed with a large grape nursery owner his concerns about using this method and possible winter heaving of the young vines. I saw value in that as a valid concern and this project addressed that concern through overwintering survival rates.
There were two formal workshops and field days held in 2016. The first one was held at the winery for Hid-In-Pines Vineyard on April 30th, 2016. This workshop gave a general synopsis of the project and covered all aspects of the growing process. I had a couple handouts covering The Clean Plant Initiative (for using virus free material to propagate) as well as a discussion on honoring Royalty and Trademarks. Selecting shoots for making the cuttings was covered along with the process for storing them if needed along with making the actual cuttings. W discussed the option of using a rooting hormone and if there is a need for it. I demonstrated the method I use for callusing the cuttings along with planting them in the plug trays. We did a hands on demonstration of these steps. I also gave a discussion on growing the cuttings to planting size.
The second workshop was held on June 26,2016 with the vines being planted with the water wheel were transported to the vineyard at planting time and loaded on the planter. The weather was extremely hot that day and there were only a few participants. Normally there is one driver and two people riding on the planter placing vines in the planter holes which were approximately six feet apart. The planter uses water which it applies into the punched hole during planting. We quickly discovered that the soil was so dry that the holes did not form well. As a result one helper rode the planter feeding the vines into the appropriate hole and the second person went behind and pushed the vine into the hole for better contact with the applied water. I have never had to do that before and I am sure it was because of the dryness of the soil at time of planting. This slowed down the process a bit but we were still able to plant each row of 50 vines in six minutes. It had been the intent to plant the rows of bareroot vines for comparison of growth and survival but with the extreme heat and dryness I decided to wait a few days for cooler weather and some expected rainfall. Those vines were planted on July 4, 2016 after a good rainfall.
Additional outreach was provided by myself through posts on the WinemakingTalk Forum where I discuss this planting method and answer general questions from other growers both large and small. The following link takes you to the discussion https://www.winemakingtalk.com/threads/vineyard-from-the-beginning-grapeman.30613/ . This post was begun several years before this project was conceived as another way of sharing this method and documenting the process.
Jay White of Boquet Valley Vineyards was a participating vineyard. I mentored Jay in the procedure I used for this project in which he learned the process and grew several thousand cuttings to establish a new block in his young vineyard. I had him grow the vines on his own with my guidance and he was able to plant the vines in early July 2016. This later than I would normally plant but 2016 saw an extremely varied weather pattern of too wet then too dry and then too wet again. This complicated his planting a bit (as did the planting I put in at Hid-In-Pines Vineyard). Jay also opted not to use the mulch I prefer and went with bare ground. After an extended very hot and dry period before planting it became very wet just before he planted and the soil tended to stick some to the wheel used for punching the holes in the mulch and soil. They needed to stop periodically to clean it before proceeding. I have a video here showing them planting. It took a bit of adjustments for them to plant, but sped the overall process greatly.
I have created a Guide to Propagating Grapevines Using Two Bud Cuttings which I am putting in that forum thread and also submitting it to Cooperative Extension for dissemination to interested parties.
I and Jay White of Boquet Valley Vineyards learned how to grow wine grape transplants and plant them into the soil with a transplanter. The cost is cheaper than buying bare root vines and the labor to plant is actually less. I will recommend it to others and continue to use this method myself.
As stated above, growing vine starts and planting them with a waterwheel transplater saves money and time and I will continue to cultivate new wine grape vine plantings in the future.
Using this system with the cell plugs and transplanter it is possible to get the new vineyard into limited production either the third or fourth growing season with full production a year later. These vineyards use Top Wire Cordon (high wire cordon) with fairly vigorous cold climate hybrids since I am located in upper New York State just below Quebec. My oldest vineyard planted using this system is seven years old and a few vines have died form being girdled by mice a few years ago. So far they have been able to be replaced by bringing up a replacement shoot from below the girdling damage. One nursery owner expressed concerns with my method shown here as he is afraid that the roots will heave upward since there is so little buried stem at planting. I have seen zero evidence of this so far but want to express here that could be a slight possibility.