Juice grapes hold steady

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Concords have natural resistance to pests, disease


Capital Press

Washington juice grape growers expect to see acreage remain firm in the coming year, due to good prices and yields and increased efficiencies.

Michelle Moyer, statewide viticulture extension specialist for Washington State University, said Washington's acreage has been holding relatively steady in recent years.

That has a lot to do with the demographic of Concord juice grape growers, which Moyer said is an aging group of individuals.

"Obviously, growing juice grapes is not as sexy as growing winegrapes, but they've been holding pretty steady," she said.

"It costs so much to put a vineyard in, you don't see a whole lot of Concords going in," said Art Denhode, president of the Washington Grape Society. He grows 350 acres of Concord grapes, about a fourth of his operation in Roza, Wash., which also includes apples and winegrapes.

In some of the southern areas of the state, the dairy industry is buying older vineyards and converting them for their operations, Denhode said.

But yields have increased, which Moyer said is a testament to the growers' improved production practices. Historically, yields were about 5 to 7 tons per acre, but have reached 10 to 15 tons per acre.

"We're getting a little bit better at our production efficiency," Moyer said.

Some farmers have begun planting Concord grapes, Moyer said, even though the price per ton is lower than winegrapes, ranging from $150 to $300 per ton for Concord grapes and $600 to $5,000 per ton for winegrapes.

Juice grapes are native to North America, as are most major grape diseases.

"When things evolve together, they kind of have had millions of years to work on that relationship," Moyer said. "The native grape varieties are not as susceptible to disease as winegrape varieties, which are originally from Europe."

Moyer said most growers rarely need to spray for diseases and pests.

"People are saying, 'Even though we don't make as much price per ton, we're still getting a pretty decent profit margin,'" she said.

Deb Heintz, executive secretary of the Washington State Grape Society, said 2010 crops were the smallest since 2006 due to late harvest starts, smaller berries and a late bud break.

Denhode expects a continued strong market for the year. Tight inventories and increased demand translate into a good cash price, he said.

"We just can't go too high, or they'll start substituting for other kinds of juices, instead of using as much Concord as they do," he said, referring to companies that use the grapes in their products.

Juice grapes at a glance

Washington is the top U.S. producer of juice grapes, followed by New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Washington has 25,000 acres of Concord grapes and slightly more than 1,100 acres for Niagara grapes, which produce white grape juice.

About 40,000 acres of winegrapes are grown in the state, but tonnage is about equal between wine and juice grapes.

-- Matthew Weaver

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