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Industry Focus

How the Grape Research and Development Program will support continued growth and sustainability of the New York grape and wine industry

By Harold Smith (Lake Erie Concord grower), John Martini (Finger Lakes vineyard and winery owner), and Larry Perrine (Long Island vineyard and winery)
Photos by Tim Martinson

Editor's note:  The views in this article represent the opinions of its authors and not Cornell University.

Concord cluster.  Research benefits grape growers throughout New York State.

The New York Wine & Grape Foundation, New York State Wine Grape Growers, and Lake Erie Regional Group have petitioned the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to establish a Grape Research and Development Program (R&D Program) that would provide a private funding stream for research benefiting New York grape growers.  If established, an assessment based on tonnage and value would go into a fund administered by Ag & Markets, and 100% of the money would fund research and extension projects that will directly benefit the industry.  This petition asks for a maximum of one half of 1% of the farm gate value of all juice and wine grapes grown in New York, and the assessment would apply to all growers who have at least two acres of grapes. Once established, industry members who pay into the fund would decide how to allocate the funds through an advisory board of seven growers and two processor representatives. 

Link to Petition:
Grape Research and Development Petition
Grape Research and Development Proposed Regulations

Here are the voices of three growers from different regions of New York State, explaining how the R&D Program will work, and the benefits they see coming to their region and farm.

Lake Erie: Harold Smith
Harold Smith is a fourth generation Concord grower who farms 90 acres in Brocton, NY, and markets grapes through the National Grape Cooperative.  He is a member of the Board, and Past Chairman of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.

Finger Lakes: John Martini
John Martini is a first generation grape grower who farms 75 acres in Penn Yan, NY, markets grapes through Anthony Road Wine Company, and sells grapes to many other wineries in the Northeast.

Long Island: Larry Perrine
Larry Perrine is a Vitis vinifera grower who farms 30 acres of grapes in Bridgehampton, Long Island, NY, and uses all his grapes to make to make wine at Channing Daughters, a farm winery.

Terry Bates, director of Cornell Lake Erie Research & Extension, demonstrates mechanical shoot thinning equipment in Portland, NY.

Why does the NY grape industry need a R&D Program? 

Harold: The grape industry in New York State, with all of its synergies, is over a $5 billion per year business, and research in viticulture and enology is vital to the future of its grape, grape juice and wine industry. 

John: Funding from federal and state sources is tightening.  It is imperative that the grape industry starts to support research that is needed to produce the quality grapes and profitable bottom lines to the vineyardists of New York.  We cannot expect New York State to continue to support research for the grape growing community if the industry does not get together to contribute dollars as well.

Larry: The New York grape industry needs this order to guarantee that a base of research dollars is made available annually to support our Cornell University research and extension staff in their work to solve our viticultural problems.  This is both a practical matter of raising the money, but it will also demonstrate to our state government that all grape growers take responsibility for providing a portion of what is required for a successful New York State grape research program.

How do you see the R&D Program benefiting growers? 

Harold: Many individuals in and outside agriculture feel that R&D is only for studying pesticides.  But it is far more than that.  Mechanization is now big in agriculture.  With the increase in labor costs, farmers are going to have to reduce these inputs, do more with machinery, and hopefully arrive at a desired result.

John: The monies raised, while not a lot, can be used for specific New York problems and they will also allow New York to work with other states and organizations to pool funds to work on issues that we have in common.

Larry: The R&D Order will make fundraising in support of grape research automatic, mandatory and equitable.  Instead of a modest number of growers supporting research, all growers will support research.  It is much easier method to raise the funds.

Marc Fuchs, associate professor, and Alice Wise, associate senior educator, sample for grapevine leafroll and red blotch on Long Island.

Why do we need more industry funding of research? 

Harold: Most research takes many years to attain the desired results, and a steady, reliable source of funding is necessary for any successful research program.  For many years, sources for these funds were plentiful and with matching dollars available from Federal, State, cooperatives and private entities, it was possible to double, triple or quadruple funding for various research projects.  But in 2008 that all went away.

John: The costs of research and the equipment that it requires are rising.  Many are already contributing and but many are not.  The funds raised will allow us to focus on problems that affect our ability to grow quality fruit.

Larry: We need more industry funding of research to both put a basic floor of guaranteed money into our research programs and to demonstrate our commitment as an industry to other funding sources such as New York State.

Why do you feel it is important to support research? 

Harold: We all benefit from research.  And we are going to have to stay out in front of regulations so that we can deliver a quality, palatable product.

John: We are in competition with the rest of the grape growing world and it is important to solve problems related to our soils and cool climate.

Larry: Grape growing is a difficult endeavor fraught with many challenges, such as diseases, both annual and chronic, animal depredation, varietal selection, climate change, etc.  We need researchers to solve problems for us as they develop and become more important.  We need their work to give us practical solutions to these issues, and I believe in investing in their work for the benefit of my company.

What are the most pressing production issues in your region?

Harold: Labor, price per ton, lack of reputable processors.

John: Disease management, cold hardiness, crop loads, dealing with growing variable weather conditions, and cultivar selections for cool regions.

Larry: On Long Island we need continuing help with pest management techniques that are environmentally responsible.  We need to pay special attention to the protection of our ground water from both pesticide and nitrogen applications.  Virus and virus vectors are now an important area of concern.  Varietal selection remains an ongoing area of interest as we try to introduce successful varieties to our present mix.

How has research benefited your own farm? 

Harold: Recently on our farm we have had a resurgence of grape root worm.  The local vineyard lab in Portland has been conducting trials on timing of sprays, different control materials and sharing of results of these trials.  Also, some old weeds have started to show up in some vineyards.  The lab has run some trials on new materials to see if they can control these new-old pests.

John: Everything we grow, and the way we grow them, is a result of research that has been done in the past, from the selection of the varieties planted to the way we manage them.

Larry: New York grape research consistently provides me with strategic and updated information on pest control.  Also, the variety trials carried out locally give me guidance on future plantings.  Much information is provided from research helping me to reduce chemical weed control inputs.

Why should other New York growers support this? 

Harold: Presently the largest amount of support comes from Concord growers.  This proposed system treats all growers across the state equally.

John: We need bigger pools of funds.  We are lucky to have one of the best grape and wine research teams in the country and the world in Cornell University, with excellent dedicated scientists.  We need to provide support with dollars to retain and attract qualified researchers and extension people here in New York.

Larry: All New York growers receive advice from grape researchers and extension agents developed by grape research projects conducted in New York.  All growers should support this modest investment in the success of their own companies because it is useful, and because it is fair that ALL growers join in the support.  Not just a minority of us.  It is useful and fair.

How do you see the R&D Program benefiting industry long-term? 

Harold: Research is vital to the future of the New York grape industry, which is vital to the agricultural economy of New York state.  The proposed R&D Program is not a tax; it is an investment - a small investment for every grower that will yield an enormous return.

John: The contributions of the grower community send a signal to state officials that we care enough to put some money in the game and that will allow those officials to more easily justify expenditures for continued grape research.

Larry: The R&D Program will set up a centralized, independent Board to oversee the evaluation and funding of grape research proposals.  This will make it a long-term, guaranteed hub for the raising of research funds and the dispersal of these funds to appropriate research projects.  It is stable, organized, overseen by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, and provides a clear center of research funding activity.