Development of Partnerships and Support for an Emerging Alternative Crop: Grapes in Northern New England

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2004: $9,604.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $23,587.00
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Lorraine Berkett
University of Vermont

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: grapes


  • Crop Production: cover crops, tissue analysis
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: soil analysis

    Proposal abstract:

    Farmers in the Northeast need information on viable alternative crops that will enable them to remain in business and to prosper into the future. Grape production, both table and wine, is being explored by northern New England farmers either as a new crop or as a possible alternative crop in established farms as a way to diversify. Growing an alternative crop such as grapes that has the potential to sell at markedly higher prices per unit than the traditional crops, can provide an avenue for the family farm to remain intact and, more importantly, to be able to thrive financially while maintaining a sustainable agriculture system. Producing grapes for diverse niche and high value markets would allow regional growers to be less dependent on large, less profitable wholesale markets. Currently, there are no comprehensive, integrated research and education programs on grapes in northern New England where the cold climate is the major limitation to growing grapes. In the past, the University of Vermont Extension System recommended not to plant grapes on a commercial basis because of problems associated with winter survival of the vines and the short growing season. However, newer cultivars that utilize Vitis vinifera, inter-specific hybrids, and native grape cultivars that show a higher degree of winter hardiness have been developed from various research institutions and private breeders such as the University of Minnesota, Cornell University, and E. Swenson (a private breeder from Wisconsin) in the past few years. Many of these cultivars are being tested by university researchers in many areas of the United States for their adaptability, productivity, and fruit and wine quality. However, no such research is currently being conducted in Northern New England where the climate can be the major limitation for the successful establishment of many plant species and cultivars. In the private sector of Vermont, there has been great interest in growing grapes, particularly in the Champlain Valley where microclimates that are suitable for grape culture can be found. Currently in Vermont, there are eight individuals whose interest in growing grapes has evolved to planting vineyards and experimenting with various winter hardy cultivars that have potential to survive in our climate and have good wine or table quality. In a recent survey of apple growers who visited a vineyard as part of their summer orchard tour indicated that the majority are considering planting grapes on their farms. Presently, there is a lack of cohesive, research-base information and dissemination mechanisms from the Extension systems in Northern New England to farmers who have an interest in growing grapes in colder regions. Scientifically-based information is necessary for farmers to make informed and comprehensive decisions to allow their farms to be profitable, environmentally sound, and to be a benefit to their community, i.e., to maintain sustainable farming communities. Our approach to begin to solve the problems associated with the commercialization of a new crop is to identify and address the needs of Vermont growers who in turn, represent growers with similar climate in New England. We view this project as setting the foundation for the establishment of an integrated research and outreach program that: (1) addresses the needs of science-based information in the cultivation and management of this alternative crop on colder regions and (2) that utilizes growers’ expertise and knowledge to strengthen the industry.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1. Document growers’ experience in growing grapes in colder climates. We will work with Vermont growers who have established vineyards to create a database from which a profile of this emerging industry can be made. Several of these farmers have been collecting information (at various degrees of detail) on the performance of various cultivars that they are growing. Growers have chosen cultivars such as Frontenac and Reliance because of their reported ability to withstand low winter temperatures and their potential to meet either wine or table grape quality requirements. Information that will be collected for this database will include any horticultural, pest, economic, and weather data and anecdotal information, such as winter survival pertinent to grape production in Vermont. This database will help the industry (farmers and research-extension personnel, industry and government agencies) to assess the overall adaptability, productivity, pest and disease problems, economics, and any other issues associated with the grape cultivars currently grown in the state. In addition, while creating this database, growers will have an opportunity to meet, share observations, ideas and farming techniques with themselves and university personnel. This process of transmitting and sharing information among growers and researchers will result in the enhancement of knowledge and partnerships.

    Objective 2 Identify and quantify differences in performance of grape cultivars at various locations due to the microclimatic, cultural and pest management differences. Although the creation of a database (Objective 1) will give us a general understanding of the status this new emerging industry, a systematic approach for data collection based on scientific principles and methods is necessary to evaluate the horticultural qualities, pest susceptibilities and cold climate adaptability of grape cultivars to determine their limitations and positive attributes. To accomplish this objective we will work with four farm cooperators who will identify and select several grape cultivars that show the most promising qualities (adaptability, productivity, quality, disease resistance, etc.). We will collect data to quantify the horticultural performance and the pest resistance/susceptibility of some of the selected cultivars. If possible, we will work with cultivars that are planted on at least two farms. For example, the cultivars Frontenac and Vidal Blanc are cultivars that are planted at three sites of the four sites. This objective will be conducted by a student as part of his/her fulfillment of a Master thesis requirement.

    Objective 3. Development of an outreach program for grape growers in Northern New England. We will design, develop and implement a high quality, comprehensive, and integrated outreach program that will address the needs for knowledge, information, technology transfer, and research for a new commodity. We will utilize various means of information transfer such as the World Wide Web, newsletter, bulletins and workshops. This outreach program will be available to growers, industry representatives, and other interested individuals throughout New England.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.