Harvest season a mixed bag for area producers

Augusto Diaz, vineyard supervisor at Shenandoah Vineyards in Edinburg, walks through a row of grape vines. Rich Cooley/Daily

Hot, dry conditions throughout the summer have resulted in a mixed fall harvest outlook for Northern Shenandoah Valley producers.

The weather in July and August was beneficial for the region’s wine producers, grape growers and orchardists, according to Mark Sutphin, horticulture specialists with the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“From the grape grower’s perspective, they have found the drier conditions favorable to ripen the fruit, and many have begun harvest as well,” Sutphin said.

Emma Randel, owner and operator at Shenandoah Vineyards in Edinburg, said the summer weather has resulted in the best quality harvest they have seen “in a long time.”

“That’s because we had such a nice, dry August and cool nights, which keeps the acid up,” Randel said, noting they have picked half of the 15 acres planted at the vineyard so far.

Angel Jimenez, a laborer at Shenandoah Vineyards, grabs a handful of Riesling grapes that were recently harvested at the vineyard. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It’s important to have dry weather to keep down the molds and mildew,” she said.  “When you have a dampness, it’s a perfect environment for the molds and mildew to proliferate.”

Other producers, such as Sally Cowal, part owner of Muse Vineyards in Woodstock, have also indicated that the summer’s weather was suited for harvesting grapes.

“This has been a very good season for us, I would say almost ideal,” she said. “Because we planted a lot of new vines – I’d say about 10 acres – so we were happy to have the rain early in the year.”

Cowal added that the lack of rain in July also benefited Muse’s vines that were mature enough to harvest grapes. “That’s what you want – for them to get the maximum amount of ripeness that they can.”

Cowal noted that they have harvested a couple of varietals – including chardonnay and sauvignon blanc – this season, and are looking to harvest more soon.

Augusto Diaz, vineyard supervisor, grabs a handful of grapes on the vine at Shenandoah Vineyards in Edinburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The first chardonnay we harvested, we harvested very early because, for the first time, we’re going to make a sparkling wine,” Cowal said, adding that Muse’s sparkling wine most likely will not get bottled until 2016.

Randel said they are hoping that the dry weather conditions continue through the fall harvest months.

The harvest is also looking promising for orchard producers.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported last week that the 2015 season is likely to contain the best crop of golden delicious apples that the state has harvested in years.

“Reports for the area apple growers have been favorable; most are expecting nearly a full crop,” Sutphin said. “The drought that occurred in the later part of July and August likely has resulted in a slightly reduced fruit size in some varieties.”

The sun lifts over a weathered cornfield on South Ox Road in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that Virginia’s producers will collectively harvest 180 million pounds – or around 4.5 million bushels – of apples this season.

Meanwhile, the dry summer may mean a below-average harvest at best for producers who planted grain commodities like corn and soybeans.

Bobby Clark, Virginia Cooperative Extension agent for agricultural and natural resources, said the year ended up being average for area producers overall – compared to a strong start in the spring months.

“I really thought we were heading for a record year,” Clark said, noting that the abundance of rain in May and June helped the early corn plantings.

Dean Shillingburg, operator of River Spring Farm in Woodstock, said, “We got enough rain in June and July for the crop to finish out well.”

Shillingburg said they are gearing up to harvest the 65 acres of corn they have planted on the 100-acre River Spring Farm.

However, he said they are likely looking at a very narrow profit margin this year from harvested corn, due to the market as well as the weather.

Shillingburg said that prices for corn and soybeans have dropped by as much as $2.50 per bushel and $4 per bushel, respectively, while operational costs have remained the same.

“What we’re harvesting, the earlier (planted) corn is doing well. The later corn is not doing well,” Shillingburg said, noting that ear size of the later plantings “is not there.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com