By Chris Gerling
Jodi Creasap Gee joined the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program (LERGP), a joint program of Penn State and Cornell, in November of 2007. A viticulture extension educator, she works with juice and wine grape growers in the Lake Erie Region and the Niagara Escarpment. Her research program includes projects on vine nutrition in Concord production and crop estimation for hybrid wine grapes commonly grown in the Lake Erie Region.
What inspired you to work with grapes?
My grandfather planted a vineyard in Central Ohio in 1971, and I grew up working with the hybrid varieties which grew surprisingly well there, although admittedly in location I would now likely discourage a grower from planting a vineyard. The crown gall that regularly affected the Chancellor vines always fascinated me, and as I learned more about the disease, I developed an interest in plant pathology. For my Ph.D. I studied crown gall on grape in Dr. Tom Burr's lab at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva and learned that the more we discover about it, the less we really know! After a post doc at Michigan State University, I missed being in the vineyard and moved to my current position in Western New York with the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program. Now, instead of being on the plant pathogen 'side' of grapevines, I'm focused on horticultural aspects of grape production.
How would you describe your job?
My position requires wearing many hats to satisfy a wide range of people. On one hand, there are hundreds of seasoned growers who have been growing grapes longer than I've been alive; however, they are eager to learn about new research and technology from Cornell's viticulture program. On the other hand, there are many growers who are new to wine grape production and several more who are new to agriculture. I try to provide programming to suit this wide array of individuals, from Mechanization Field Days for Concord growers to pruning workshops for those interested in growing wine grapes. As the Lake Erie Region becomes more popular with tourists, there is more interest in learning about the LERGP itself, so some of my efforts have been diverted to outreach education for the local community and for Cornell Viticulture Classes, in addition to a number of research projects.
What projects are going on in your program right now?
My research program currently focuses on vineyard floor management, vine nutrition in Concords, and crop estimation in hybrid varieties. I am currently working with a grower to assess the ability of forage radish to reduce compaction in a Concord vineyard. If planting a cover crop like forage radish can reduce or prevent vineyard floor compaction, this process has the potential to improve soil health at a lower cost than ripping--the alternative method which can also cause damage to roots and trunks--while potentially increasing vine size and productivity.
Many growers use foliar feeds as part of their vineyard management program. However, without any studies assessing these foliar feeds, it is difficult to make recommendations on whether they actually provide a measurable benefit. I have established a study to evaluate several foliar feeds from two companies at one of the vineyards here at CLEREL and at a local grower's vineyard.
Finally, I am developing berry growth curves that could be used to estimate crop size shortly after fruit set in hybrid wine varieties. This would enable growers to make earlier decisions on crop thinning. An additional aspect to this project is to try to establish a statistical correlation between berry weight and berry diameter to enable non-destructive crop estimation in Concord, Niagara, and hybrid varieties.
What are the major challenges facing the industry, and what are your goals to help the industry meet them?
The major challenge for the Concord juice grape industry is to maximize crop size and quality with minimum vineyard inputs and a reduced labor force. As finding labor becomes a challenge for growers in the region, there has been increased interest in precision viticulture and mechanization. Furthermore, nutrition management in the vineyard has become increasingly important. My goals are to educate growers on options for Concord mechanization, to work with and encourage growers to develop a nutrient management plan based on soil type and nutrient content, and to address the needs of the rapidly growing wine grape industry of the Lake Erie Region.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is meeting with growers in their vineyards and learning about their different practices while kicking the tires of new/different/unusual tractors or attachments for tractors. While there are many similarities among practices, there are often striking and surprising differences, which are fun to learn. Plus, grower visits provide excellent opportunities to learn about growers' interests beyond grape growing.