Leaders in the grape and wine industry from around the nation and the world gathered recently in Missouri.
The overwhelming message at the 23rd annual Midwest Grape & Wine Conference at the Lake of the Ozarks, according to Brownfield Ag News, was for producers to be ready for continued labor shortages.
Keith Striegler, the director of the University of Missouri’s Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology, says a new state law in Oklahoma that holds growers liable for unknowingly hiring undocumented workers has had a “chilling” effect. So, grape growers, large and small, need to be ready with mechanization.
“Going to mechanization, there may be fewer jobs, but there will be higher paying jobs and more stable jobs,” Striegler said.
Dr. Cesare Intrieri, the professor of viticulture at the University of Bologne in Italy, says mechanization has been in use in his country for 30 years, and the U.S. wine industry has the same problems as Europe – labor shortages and higher labor costs.
“If the industry stands to increase the size of the vineyards, there will be more and more necessity for mechanization,” Intrieri said.
He and other experts at the Midwest Grape Conference say mechanization increases the efficiency of pruning, harvesting and canopy management for grape growers, but does not completely replace human labor.
The importance of crop insurance also was a topic for grape growers, as was the 2008 Farm Bill, which has provisions for expanding specialty crop markets and funding for research. Whether those provisions will remain in the final version remains to be seen.