Freezing grapes worry politicians and growers

E Photos/via Flickr
February 19, 2014

The cold temperatures this winter have been killing off grape buds in the Finger Lakes. Senator Charles Schumer visited the region to urge the federal government to prepare emergency funds for grape growers.

Buds on the vine right now turn into grapes in the summer. But the polar vortex and heavy snowfalls this year are freezing the buds. And that has growers like Gene Pierce worried.

“It’s very challenging when you lose your income for an entire year and yet your cost continue to go on.”

Pierce owns the Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee. He says it’s too early to tell exactly how much damage has been done, but he guesses, at his vineyard in the northern Finger Lakes, the kill-off could be as high as 80%.

“It’s going to impact a significant number of growers in the Finger Lakes region and in Western New York.”

So Sen. Schumer is calling on the government to get out in front of the problem. Schumer asked the Department of Agriculture to prepare emergency low-interest loans for the growers in case the damage turns out to be as bad as some expect.

The recently passed Farm Bill also includes assistance for growers to replant damaged crops. Pierce says that sort of assistance might not be necessary.

“It’s one thing to lose the buds and lose the crop for one year. However, when you have to replant a vine you’re really looking at no crop for three to four years.”

Pierce says usually the vine will survive. But it’ll be spring before he knows the extent of the damage.