Mechanical grape thinning pays off for growers

12/11/2013 11:23:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

mechanical grape thinningCourtesy Cornell UniversityMany Upstate New York grape growers used mechanical grape harvesters to help thin overloaded crop loads during the summer.Mechanical grape thinning is beginning to pay dividends for western New York growers.

The technique involves removing up to one-third of their crop in late July and early August to relieve stress on the plant and speed maturity.

Of the roughly 50 percent of vineyards that were mechanically thinned this season, growers altogether should see benefits of $9.6 million to $15 million, according to a news release.

That's because at least half of the western New York Concord grape growing region was overcropped this season.

Widespread frost damage in early 2012 reduced that season's crop by about half but prompted the vines to overproduce buds for this season.

During pruning, growers also reduced fewer buds last season in hopes of better 2013 yields.

At the same time, near-ideal weather conditions this season resulted in more and larger-than-normal berries that were not going to ripen on overloaded vines.

Mechanical thinning has been a long-term research project by Cornell University scientists who have studied the relationship between leaf area, sunlight interception, crop loads and ripening.

Not only did reducing the crop help growers meet processors' maturity standards, but it also will allow them to have healthier vines with adequate reserves to produce a good crop next year.

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