The principal goal of the project was research and demonstration of a suite of crop and pest management tactics that will, when adopted, improve economic viability, maintain and enhance environmental quality, and protect worker and consumer health.
The project had a 4-year total duration and consisted of the following general components: an initial three-state survey to precisely document the crop and pest management practices and inputs now in use by commercial wine grape growers in the three Southern New England (SNE) states; on-farm demonstration and applied research of several sustainable management tactics; training of field personnel by University-based faculty and professionals; frequent assessment of pest status in participating sites by trained field personnel; regular provision of useful crop and pest information to all Southern New England wine grape growers through a newsletter, a web site and other means; implementation of educational meetings and tours during the growing and dormant seasons; and a post-project evaluation survey of all SNE wine grape growers to determine specific practices changed and extent of change by comparisons between baseline practices/problems to those after project implementation.
Wine grapes are currently produced on about 700 acres of land in RI, CT and MA, by about 75 vineyards ranging to 80 Acres in size. Wine grape culture is a relatively new industry in the region. Non-traditional farmers, typically individuals who had succeeded in another career and who were looking for a new challenge, initiated several of the longest-established vineyards. Recognizing that the warm humid climate and relatively long growing season of southern New England was potentially favorable for wine grapes, they established Vinifera and French hybrid grape vines on high quality soil that had previously been used for dairy farms and other agricultural businesses that were no longer viable.
Prior to the onset of this project, the wine grape industry in the three southern New England states was recognized to be in a period of excellent growth and apparently general profitability. However, as noted by industry leaders, the New England states lagged behind other regions in terms of research and extension capacity to address both the horticultural and pest management issues facing growers. This situation meant that growers were forced to bring in consultants from nearby wine grape growing states (e.g., NY, PA, NJ) for assistance with various problems and to seek out information sources (e.g. newsletters, web sites) that often were far removed from this region. This reliance may have worked for larger operations that could afford bringing in outside help, but the majority of farms were not able to benefit from this outside expertise.
Furthermore, while the state of Connecticut had lead the way in terms of grower organization. The former Southern New England Wine Grape Grower’s Association (SNEGGA) had essentially become defunct. As a consequence, Massachusetts and RI lacked an organizational focal point around which growers/vintners could coalesce for purposes of influencing state or regional policy.
In addition, while a few “early adopter” growers were experimenting with “sustainable” approaches to crop and pest management (i.e., use of composts for nutrition, reflective mulches to advance ripening, mating disruption against a key moth pest, etc.), the majority of growers were not in as position to do so. Thus, crop and pest management programs tended to be conventional and prophylactic rather than dynamic and responsive to actual conditions on the ground. In response to this situation, the project set out to help increase local research and Extension capacity and to develop more integrated and sustainable approaches to growing wine grapes. A further focus was to help growers organize a re-energized grower association.
The project was envisioned to benefit up to 100 vineyard owners, managers or farm workers. The typical project beneficiary was a vineyard manager who is younger (in his/her 40’s) than the average New England farmer (average age 57), is well educated (college or above), and, who, by his/her own admission is “starved for information”. S/he does the best possible job to monitor the vineyard’s soils and plants, but would benefit greatly by frequent access to data on plant growth and development, plant health and pest pressure, and the ability to network with other growers. S/he has a clear idea of what s/he needs, has previously approached the local Land Grant University for assistance with various issues, is highly aware of trends and developments in the wine industry regionally and nationally, and often spends hours on the Internet looking for answers to problems and for innovative crop and pest management tactics that might improve sustainability and/or profitability. S/he is already engaged in small-scale, on-farm trials of potentially useful practices, including organic production methods to enhance available marketing options and profitability.
The sustainable grape production project worked with these innovative, forward-thinking, growers and vineyard managers to develop a wine grape production system that is less dependent on broad-spectrum synthetic pesticides, that optimizes use of other inputs such as fertilizers, fuel and labor, and that enhances the grower’s ability to market their product to ecologically- and health-conscious consumers in Southern New England and beyond.
Performance targets were accomplished through research and outreach on at least two farms each in MA, RI and CT over 3 growing seasons as well as through seasonal on-farm meetings at demonstration/research sites, dormant season workshops and conferences, newsletters, hard copy reports, fact sheets and information on Extension web sites.
1. At least 50 southern New England wine grape growers/vineyard managers managing over 700 acres will participate in on-farm and other educational opportunities, research studies or tactic demonstrations and at least 25 will adopt 2 or more integrated and sustainable tactics on the majority of their acreage. Based on the results from meeting evaluations, participants surveys conducted during the project, and large-scale pre- and post-project surveys, we believe that this target has been achieved.
2. Six college-level individuals will receive training in grape production and scouting, and will participate in collecting, summarizing and evaluating data from the demonstration/research sites. At least one individual trained during the project will continue to offer fee-based vineyard monitoring and consulting services after the project ends. We believe the first part of this target has been achieved by virtue of training two college-level individuals who served as UMass summer field staff, one for the duration of the project, one for one season and 4 UMass Extension staff (Sandler, Tuttle, Coli, and Cooley) and one URI Extension staff (Faubert) who substantially increased their grape training and knowledge by interacting with grape specialists from Cornell, Rutgers and Penn State Universities. It appears that the second part of this target was not achieved, since the longest serving field staffer does not appear interested in offering private fee-based scouting services now that the project is over.
The project was based on the following general components: an initial three-state survey to precisely document the nature of current wine grape crop and pest management practices and inputs now in use by commercial growers in the three Southern New England (SNE) states; on-farm demonstration and applied research of several sustainable management tactics; training of field personnel by University-based faculty and professionals; frequent assessment of participating sites by trained field personnel; regular provision of useful crop and pest information to all SNE wine grape growers through a newsletter and other means; implementation of educational meetings and tours during the growing and dormant seasons; facilitation of a new grower-run trade organization for Massachusetts growers; and a post-project evaluation survey of all SNE wine grape growers to determine specific practices changed, and extent of that change.
Because evaluation of outcomes presumes an accurate understanding of pre-program practices and grower condition, the first step in the project was development and execution of a Dillman Method survey to all SNE grape growers to determine baseline crop and pest management practices using non-NESARE funding. Growers were asked to complete a checklist of practices based on the Massachusetts Grape IPM Guideline, and a subset. With survey data in hand, investigators and private sector participants convened in Spring of 2004 to fully flesh out applied research plans, and pick topics, dates, and locations for Year 1 meetings. Applied trials were tested in large plots within vineyards, and a grower standard control plot maintained as well whenever possible. Tactic studies were replicated across vineyards to account for site-to-site variability, and analyzed by standard statistical tests.
Tactics that were investigated or demonstrated included: use of commercially-available mating disruption technology for key arthropod pests; environmental monitoring and forecasting for key disease pests; optimizing methods to determine need for fertilizers; use of alternative nutrient sources such as compost; eliminating unnecessary fungicide use by understanding and reducing disease epidemiology and inoculum potential; optimizing and reducing pesticide use by better and more frequent sprayer calibration; emphasizing effectiveness of newer sprayer types to conventional air blast sprayers; value of frequent scouting and better localized weather information for determining the need and timing of sprays; methods to achieve better “vine balance” to improve spray penetration and reduce luxury consumption of fertilizers; use of reflective mulches to improve ripening of red varieties; selection of more cold hardy grapes that are still capable of making quality wine; and use of bio-based methods or low risk materials for pest management.
Using supplemental funding from the UMass Extension Information Technology Initiative, in 2005 Sonia Schloemann took the lead on developing a new website for the vineyard industry in New England. The site ran on a trial basis over the 2005 summer with good success. Since then, it has been made available to all the vineyards and wineries in New England. The website is called the “New England Wine Grape Growers’ Resource Center” and is located at http://www.newenglandwinegrapes.org/. The New England Wine Grape Growers’ Resource Center continues to be an asset for the industry in all of New England. The site features: In season field scouting reports and weekly weather summaries, information on vineyard management, including vineyard scouting, cultural practices, and pest management, articles and publications, links to New England viticulture related websites and other information sources, info on pest management supplies, equipment sources, nurseries, a calendar of upcoming events, and a photo gallery. Its purpose is to provide growers with easy access to information and a means to communicate with each other as well as to increase awareness of all the vineyards and wineries in New England.
From results of the baseline survey, initial grower planning meetings, and field scouting, it became clear that disease management was the biggest challenge facing the southern New England growers. Growers also expressed clear interest in learning more about horticultural issue of potential benefit. Thus, our intention to have significant focus on insects and weeds as well as disease was replaced with a greater emphasis on diseases in particular, and, to a lesser extent, on vine management, and subsequent activities reflected this changed emphasis.
In addition part of the project activity involved working with NRCS and others to develop a site suitability guide for persons considering planting grapes. Even with the model as a guide, some knowledgeable individual should typically visit any place that is seriously under consideration, and look around, since there are a few things that will kill grapes no matter how optimistic the grower. Soils are a good case in point. Since it appeared that soils are less important for grapes than originally assumed we modified our approach away from designating “acceptable” soils to identifying those that are “not acceptable” with a goal of making a few simple rules, such as “no pan in the first 3 ft of soil” or “never flooded”. Development of this site model is ongoing using separate UMass Ag. Expt. Stat.) funding.
In 2004, a total of 240 growers attended a 2-day spring educational meeting and two summer meetings. Meeting topics focused included: sprayer calibration, biology and management of black rot, phenological and cultural factors affecting Botrytis bunch rot, effects of humidity on powdery mildew development, inoculum dynamics and infectivity of Phomopsis viticola, and development and management of fungicide resistance in powdery mildew control.
Three meetings were organized in 2005 (April 20, June 16, and August 15) attended by a total of 134 growers. Topics covered in these educational meetings were again based on priorities established through the baseline survey done in 2004 and with substantial input from the grower advisory group. These were: strategies for achieving vine balance, management of Grape Berry moth, biological management of Powdery Mildew, weather monitoring options for vineyards, reflective mulches and fruit ripening in New England grapes, promotional Campaigns for New England Vineyards/Wineries, pesticide mixing and loading, vineyard sprayer technology, basics of training systems and trellis design, spray equipment demo, Downey Mildew management, Farm Bureau promotion of New England farm wineries, and vine nutrition and late season crop management.
Three meetings were also organized in 2006 (March 15, July 13, and August 29). Attendance was again excellent, with a total of 92 growers/managers present. Topics covered were again based on priorities established through the baseline survey and additional input from the grower advisory group. Based on our recognition of an unusual outbreak of a late-season harvest rot (Ripe Rot) in 2005, we particularly emphasized this problem. Meeting topics were: review of 2005 disease problems, Ripe Rot and the harvest rot complex, grower panel on 2005 harvest rots, update on 2006 grape research, update on planned 2006 scouting activities, canopy management for quality fruit, veraison disease management review, and vineyard sprayer technology workshop.
A fourth meeting was presented specifically for new or potential new grape growers featuring presentations by Dr. Mark Chien (Penn State Univ.), Dr. Fritz Westover (VA. Tech. Univ.), Drs. Cooley, Sandler and vanden Heuvel and Ms. Sonia Schloemann (UMass). A total of 13 diverse topics were covered, all of which were of importance to new growers or those considering becoming growers. Sixty-two individuals attended.
A single meeting was presented in 2007 that brought regional experts from Cornell and Penn State to cover topics focused on Sustainable Grape Production. A total of 22 persons attended.
In addition to seasonal twilight meetings, project staff and others collaborated to present grape-related sessions at the New England Vegetable and Berry grower Association annual meetings in 2004-2007. Each of these sessions was attended by approximately 150 persons (600 total).
We periodically asked for and received input on the project from grower advisors. On February 11, 2005, we organized a forum to discuss formation of New England Wine Grape Growers Association at the Nashoba Valley Winery, Bolton, MA.
Peter Oldak, Jewell Towne Vineyards, South Hampton NH
Kip Kumler, Turtle Creek Vineyards, Concord, MA
Gary Crump, Priam Vineyards, Colchester, CT
Richard Pelletier, Nashoba Valley Winery, Bolton MA
John & Audrey Samek, Hardwick Vineyard and Winery, Hardwick, MA
Bonita Oehlke, Massachusetts Dept. of Agric. Resources, Boston, MA
Dave Bishop, First Pioneer Farm Credit, Enfield, CT
Sonia Schloemann, UMass Extension, Amherst, MA
The meeting discussed the re-formation of a regional association to represent wine grape vineyards and wineries in New England. We followed a format of open dialog sharing information about organized groups, pasts and present, their purpose and structure, and proposed goals of an umbrella organization that might encompass the wide diversity that currently exists in New England wine grape growers and vintners. We also briefly considered the potential structure such an entity might have.
As described earlier, a total of 13 meetings were held between 2004 and 2007, with total attendance of 1,150 persons. Additional outputs of the project included the “New England Wine Grape Growers’ Resource Center” web site (http://www.newenglandwinegrapes.org/), a general description of how to scout regional vineyards (based on work of Cornell University), and the New England Grape Notes newsletter (16 issues annually). Both the web site and newsletter are planned to be ongoing activities of UMass extension. In addition, we anticipate continuing to help organize wine grape sessions at the annual New England Fruit and Vegetable meetings.
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
Consistent with prevailing models, “impacts” or “outcomes” differ from “activities” or “outputs” (e.g., research performed, meetings held, newsletters issued, etc.). In the case of impacts these can be of three types: short-term (change in knowledge over 1-2 years), intermediate-term (change in behavior over 2-4 years) and long-term (change in some grower condition such as profitability over 5-10 years). The four-year term of the project limited our ability to documenting changes in target audience knowledge and behavior to short- and intermediate-term impacts.
In 2005, participant evaluations were distributed to all meeting attendees, and overall usefulness was assessed. Ratings were uniformly positive: no respondents said they were “not useful”, between 88% and 92% rated the sessions as “very useful”, and between 8% and 22% rated them “somewhat useful”. We modified the initial evaluation form after the very first meeting to ask: “Did you learn one or more new practices that you will implement at your farm/vineyard”. In response, 86% and 91% of respondents answered “Yes” regarding the June and August meetings respectively. Practices that attendees indicated they might adopt reflected training received, and included: Use of foliar nutrient sprays, importance of petiole analysis, improving fungicide rotation to prevent resistance development, and use of air induction nozzles.
In 2006, we made a further attempt to relate meeting content to potential project impacts by sending an evaluation form to attendees at each of the three “Twilight Meetings” and the “New Grape Grower Workshop” after the meeting. Number of growers responding to the evaluation request averaged 52% of attendees. In response to the question: “Did you learn one or more new practices that you will implement on your farm”, 44%, 71% and 100% of respondents answered “Yes” for the Spring, Mid-Summer and August meetings respectively. Overall ratings for the three meetings were: 50% “Very Useful” and 50% “Useful” for the spring meeting, and 100% “Very Useful” for both the midsummer and August meetings respectively. New Grower Workshop attendee evaluations of individual speakers ranged from 38% to 100% (average of 68%) “Very Useful” but an overall rating for the meeting of 100% “Very Useful”. Eighty-six percent of respondents said that they learned one or more new practices that they will implement on their farm. Based on the evaluations, we remain encouraged at the prospects for short-term impacts involving changes in target population knowledge and skills, and medium term impacts of changes in behavior.
At the end of the 2007 growing season, we sent a 2-page survey to 32 participating wine grape growers to get feedback on the usefulness of all aspects of the project. Nine of the growers received weekly IPM field scouting by project personnel as well as access to all other aspects of the project. Eight of these responded. Of the 23 growers who did not receive our scouting visits, but did access other materials and events, 11 responded. The overall response rate was 62.5 %. The survey was divided into sections covering information delivery and improvements in knowledge leading to changes in practice. Regarding information delivery, 7 out of 8 responding growers found the field scouting either “very useful” or “somewhat useful”. The weekly email newsletter (New England Grape Notes) was read “often” by 16 out of the 20 responders. Most useful parts were the scouting summary and table, followed by the spray and other management advice Eight growers found the scouting summary and the weather data. Growers were very glad to have a website of their own dedicated to wine grapes in New England, and the majority of respondents found it “useful” or “somewhat useful”, and accessed it “often” or “frequently”.
Ten responding growers said that they had already changed their behavior by using different pesticides or using pesticides differently. Some started using reduced-risk pesticides like Pristine, Oxidate, sulphur, and Phostrol. Others noted that they were more careful to target a specific pest with the most effective material. One grower sprayed perimeter rows instead of whole blocks. Eight growers were inspired to calibrate their spray rigs more often and differently. Two managed Japanese beetle differently. Twelve growers fine-tuned their fungicide sprays based on field scouting results. Six grape growers used new techniques to manage vine canopies. Four growers used pheromone traps to monitor grape berry moth and 4 used mating disruption pheromone to manage the moth. Four of the responders used weather station data and the disease risk prediction information derived from the data. Three growers altered pest management at the veraison growth stage, and 7 growers changed their powdery mildew management practices thanks to this project. A few growers altered their management of several other diseases including downy mildew, ripe rot, and anthracnose. Three vineyards changed their methods for establishing new plantings and 6 planted new varieties. Two used reflective mulches with help from project personnel and 3 used TracGrape software to document production practices. One grower started using an audible alarm for bird control.
Numerous other growers said that they are planning to do things differently. In specific, they plan on allocating more resources to field scouting, using less pesticide if weather allows, moving toward newer, more specific and less toxic pesticides, better timing needed sprays, better calibrating spray rigs, fine-tuning fungicide sprays based on scouting results, managing canopies differently, using grape berry moth traps and mating disruption, and directly using weather station data directly. A few growers plan to alter veraison pest management and powdery mildew management, conduct vineyard establishment differently, use reflective mulches, manage anthracnose, black rot, and weeds differently, and use TracGrape software to document production practices. Five growers have been inspired to plant new varieties or new clones.
While meeting evaluations and small-scale surveys can give useful data on project impacts, a key element of evaluation we proposed was implementation of a large-scale initial baseline survey followed by a post project survey containing most of the same questions. As noted in our 2004 report, we successfully completed a multi-state baseline Dillman Method survey of grape growers in Southern New England in 2004, prior to the onset of any project activity. An initial Extension mailing list of 93 putative growers of wine grapes was winnowed down to 71. The remainder either reported that they did not grow wine grapes, or were unreachable due to address changes, etc. Results have been previously summarized in a PowerPoint presentation for presentation at the project review meeting (available online at www.umass.edu/fruitadvisor/grapesurvey.pdf).
In 2008, the follow up Dillman survey was sent to an updated list of 76 growers in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Many of those who received the initial survey also received this one. Overall response rate was 56%, although the percent usable was lower (36%). More respondents (84%) were vineyard owners in 2008 compared to earlier (73%). Survey responses in 2008 represented a total of 399 acres, or about 50% of estimated three-state acreage compared to approx 55% in 2004. Average farm size had increased slightly from 10.6 A initially to 14.5. Respondents planned to increase grape acreage by an additional 452 acres, which, if implemented, would bring average vineyard size up to 17.8 acres. Growers describing themselves as “IPM” increased significantly from 2004 (64% vs. 21%), while those calling themselves “conventional” declined from 74% to 40%. An “Organic” classification was selected by 4% of growers, substantially lower than the 18% who self-described in 2004.
Respondents reported that they had changed their behavior in a number of ways over the past 4 years and adopted a number of sustainable practices that had been emphasized in project training sessions and applied research. Practices noted were: more frequent scouting, better pruning for enhanced spray penetration, adjusting spray schedules in relation to scouting information, use of a weed flamer rather than herbicides, better rotation of chemical classes to deter pest resistance, use of reflective mulches to better ripen fruit, using various alternative solutions (e.g., canon, netting) for bird control, use of high graft unions, and better or more frequent sprayer calibration. While all the above have been covered to varying extents during project meetings or in newsletters, sprayer calibration in particular has been emphasized. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said that they had attended one or more of our trainings on the topic, and of those that did, 65% took steps to correct their sprayer calibration.
Another area of emphasis was the importance of having a proper facility for staring and mixing/loading pesticides. In the 2004 survey, 75% of growers reported having a pesticide storage facility, but only 35% reported mixing/loading pesticides on an impermeable surface. Respondents in 2008 reported a trend to more storage facilities (81%), while substantially more 50% said they currently mix/load pesticides on an impermeable surface. Clearly, more work can still be done on this aspect of pesticide use.
While diseases are the pest of primary concern to wine grape growers, the Grape Berry Moth is also a pest of significance. Hence, the project emphasized several aspects of GBM management, running from relatively simple (i.e., using commercially-available GBM traps to monitor emergence and activity periods) to more complex (i.e., using pheromone ties form mating disruption. In the 2004 survey, only 3% of respondents used GBM monitoring traps, while 25% used mating disruption (with varying degrees of success). By 2008, 33% of growers were at least using the GBM monitoring traps, and 40% had started to use mating disruption “always” or “sometimes”. Given the relatively small block size of regional vineyards, and the need to deploy disruption ties well in advance of pest emergence and at adequate densities, it is not surprising that only 25% of those who have used disruption feel that it is either “very” or “somewhat” effective, while 75% either feel it is “not effective” or do not know about its efficacy. This is another area that bears additional work in the future.
Maintenance of a green cover in row middles increased substantially from 36% to 52%, as did purchase of certified virus free planting stock (88% vs. 68% in ’04) and selection of disease resistant varieties (64% vs. 47% initially).
A significant short term impact in 2005 was the detection of an outbreak of an unusual pre harvest disease, ripe rot of grape that was enabled due to the presence of our field scouts in commercial vineyards. Based on this, our team organized a speaker on very short notice for the Wine Grape Session at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Meetings (Dec. 13-15, 2005, Manchester, NH) that was attended by over 50 growers. We are confident that knowledge gained at this meeting better prepared growers to deal with subsequent ripe rot outbreaks.
SARE funding from this project also enabled us to compete successfully for a three-year internal grant through the Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station. This grant ($50,000 per year) has enabled our team to plant a small vineyard (600+ vines) at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard Research and Extension center in Belchertown, MA.
Another significant project impact was the re-activation of a Massachusetts Wine and Grape Association that had previously developed an organizational structure, bylaws and non-profit status but that had been functionally defunct in all other ways for several years. After our initial impetus, we were pleased that the process of re-forming a Massachusetts association became driven by the growers themselves. Late in 2007, the Massachusetts Farm Wineries & Growers Association was formally constituted, elected officers, and began holding general membership meetings. Formation of this grower organization will ensure that grape-related focus begun by the Massachusetts IPM team will continue into the future.
A further positive impact of the project is the amount of wine grape-related networking currently underway among Extension and Experiment station staff in Mass, Connecticut (Lorraine Los and Dr. Ana Lagrand) and Rhode Island (Heather Faubert) in particular, but also to some extent including Vermont (Dr. Lorraine Berkett). Dr. Bill Nail of the Connecticut Ag. Experiment Station was been closely involved with the project, including serving as a speaker on several occasions, and Dr. Richard Kiyomoto (CAES, Retired) was also an active collaborators. Dr. Kiyomoto made site visits with our team on several occasions to help enhance our ability to recognize important diseases, and to assess their significance at various times during the season.
Extent of adoption of integrated and sustainable practices researched and/or demonstrated are described above under “Impacts”.
Long-term benefits of the project to the regional industry will primarily consist of: a better organized grower population due to the formation of the Massachusetts Farm Wineries & Growers Association, and continued publication/maintenance of the New England Grape Notes newsletter, the New England Wine Grape Growers’ Resource Center website, the grape demonstration site established at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard Research and Extension Center, continued networking among grape specialists in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and ongoing pest management related research studies such as the project currently being lead by scientists at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station with funding from the Northeastern Integrated Pest Management Center.
Areas needing additional study
As noted above, further emphasis on proper techniques for storage and mixing/loading of pesticides would be desirable, as well as a larger effort to refine effective use of mating disruption for the Grape Berry Moth is desirable. In addition, better models to predict disease pressure and optimize fungicide use are also desirable.