- Author: George Zhuang
30,000 acres of San Joaquin Valley vineyards have adopted mechanization using UCCE research-based guidelines, potentially saving $15 million per year and promoting economic prosperity in California.
Grape is the second largest commodity of California agriculture in terms of value ($6.25 billion in 2018) with approximately 900,000 acres. Currently, increasing labor costs and severe labor shortages are starting to damage long-term grape farming profitability and competitiveness. Full mechanization on wine grape vineyard can reduce the production cost per acre from $3,000 to $2,500 per acre, which represents about 20% reduction of production cost. However, wineries and juice processing plants have concerns about grape and juice quality from mechanization.
How UC Delivers
UCCE Fresno and UC Davis have been working on research projects to identify the best strategy for mechanical pruning, leafing and shoot thinning at San Joaquin Valley, North Coastal, and Napa Valley regions. Research findings have identified the best guidelines for adopting vineyard mechanization and confirmed that mechanization has no negative effect on grape and wine quality, but improves the grape and wine quality. The research results have been shared with growers and industry personnel through meetings, field demonstration, newsletter, and professional society conference.
“We don't really have an R&D arm, so we really rely on George and Cooperative Extension to provide viticultural knowledge and methods to help us achieve our production goals,” Nick Davis, southern valley vineyard manager of The Wine Group, the second-largest U.S. wine company, told Growing Produce. “We really enjoy our collaboration with UC Extension — through them we can attain the best quality grapes in our vineyards.”
Over 30,000 acres of wine grape in San Joaquin Valley has been converted into some sort of mechanization based on UCCE's research and extension of findings. Mechanization can save $500 per acre for growers on production costs based on 2019 UC cost studies; thus, potentially saving $15 million per year. UCCE's viticulture research and extension contributes to increasing agriculture efficiency and profitability, and the public value of promoting economic prosperity in California.
Vineyard mechanization is the win-win-win situation: growers can improve their farming margins, wineries and juice processing plants can have reliable supply and better quality, and average consumers can enjoy better wine and more healthy grape products at the decent price. There is potential for wider adoption of vineyard mechanization across California's grape growing regions. The Wine Group (the second largest winery in US), and other industry partners, have had positive feedback and indicate they will adopt the mechanization into the current farming practices.