Good Fruit Grower

January 2016

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12 JANUARY 1, 2016 GOOD FRUIT GROWER I daho's burgeoning table grape industry, poised for great things, needs a nudge before additional expansion takes place. Industry members hope a new research grant will take the industry to the next level. More than two decades ago, University of Idaho's Dr. Esmaeil Fallahi showed local growers that table grapes could thrive in southwestern Idaho. His initial research tri- als identifi ed varieties suitable for the Treasure Valley, an area west of Boise where most of the state's tree fruit and wine grapes are grown. Since then, several hundred acres of table grapes have been planted in the Intermountain West region of Idaho and neighboring states, and progress has been made in developing a new industry. But growers believe the newest round of Fallahi's research, made possible by a 2015 specialty crop block grant from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, is what's needed to take the industry to the next level. The $163,000 grant signifi cantly expands Fallahi's research and allows him to test new table grape selections and study canopy management and training systems as he works to increase yields and improve quality parameters of fruit and cluster size. "There's a tremendous amount of interest and activ- ity in table grapes right now," said Tom Elias, founding member of what's now called the Snake River Table Grape Growers Association, a group that renamed itself to align with Idaho's fi rst wine grape appellation, the Snake River Valley American Viticultural Area. Elias, past president of the grower group, grows table grapes and Asian pears near Marsing, Idaho. He also provides table and wine grape plant material to other growers. While Elias couldn't give a defi nitive number of table grape acres in Idaho, he told Good Fruit Grower the num- ber is "more than a hundred and less than a thousand." Though a few vineyards have been removed in recent years because they were in the wrong location or the grower wasn't prepared for the amount of work involved, according to Elias, table grape acreage of late is on the upswing. He cited several 20-acre blocks recently planted and said there's planting interest from drought-stricken grape growers in California who are searching for ground with water. (Even though there was a lack of snowfall in the Pacifi c Northwest this past year, Elias had enough surface water to grow his grapes and has the option of pumping groundwater.) Table grape harvest in Idaho starts in September and continues into October. "It's late enough to avoid over- lap with California," said Elias. "Our timing is perfect — we're after most California table grapes are harvested but before imported Chilean grapes arrive in November. Most of the California grapes sold in our time frame are coming out of cold storage." Convert The current president of the Idaho table grape grow- ers group, Kevin Schultz, is a recent convert to Idaho's table grape industry and represents a new generation of growers. At 37, he's much younger than other table grape growers who planted small vineyards to keep them busy in retirement. "I have a business background, so I see things from a different perspective than some of the older growers," Schultz said. "When I analyze the profi tability of growing table grapes in Idaho, I see amazing revenue potential." He planted 20 acres of table grapes in Eagle last year for Dry Creek Grapes LLC, and the partnership has another 200 acres of table grapes planted near Emmett. Schultz believes the local food movement is a key reason why Idaho table grapes can be profi table and compete with California. Large and small grocers are promoting the origins of local fruits and vegetables. New varieties Fallahi, pomologist at UI's research and extension center in Parma, shares the enthusiasm of Elias and Schultz. "There's a lot of excitement in the industry right now," he said. In the right location, growers can produce good quality fruit. However, he warned that growers must be mindful of their grapevines' cold hardiness. "Avoid planting table grapes in cold pockets — save those spots for shop buildings or other crops — and be ready to cut Grapes Researchers will study new varieties and canopy management for table grapes in the Gem State. by Melissa Hansen Elevating Idaho TABLE GRAPES "When I analyze the pro�itability of growing table grapes in Idaho, I see amazing revenue potential." —Kevin Schultz The Emerald table grape variety is a large, yellow-green, midseason grape. Pasargad grapes have been successful in farmers' markets. Alborz is the main commercial table grape variety in the U.S. Intermountain West.

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