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Stroll a German vineyard
Growing grapes in Germany
Photos in this slideshow differ from the usual Midwestern crops and farmers that I normally photograph for stories. Last month, I was invited by BASF to attend its annual media conference in Limburgerhof, Germany. Before the conference, BASF hosted a tour of a western Germany vineyard.
The Wiesenmuhle Weingut (vineyard) is near Monsheim in southwestern Germany. This is a sixth-generation farm that dates back to 1792 and is operated by the Gerhard Schilling family. Grapes are grown on 185 hectares (456 acres), with the balance in grain crops like winter wheat.
Similarities with U.S. farming
Verena Schottle, who works in the vineyard, was our host. In one respect, this farm mimics U.S. row crop and small grain production in that it’s highly mechanized. Schottle says the farm harvests about 90% of the grapes mechanically.
The woody vines on which grapes grow live for up to 60 years but Schottle notes they normally are replaced after 30 to 35 years. These two-year old vines will soon be ready to produce grapes.
Threats from disease
Disease constantly threatens grapes. Powdery mildew especially harms grapes early in the growing season. “This year, we had too much rain. Warm and rainy means lots of fungal diseases,” she says.
Battling fungal disease prompts the vineyard to apply fungicides 8 to 10 times during the growing season. Just as U.S. plant pathologists encourage row crop and grain farmers to do, the vineyard follows a strict resistance management strategy. It forestalls resistance by rotating different types of fungicides, notes Schottle.
The vineyard is in Germany’s Rhein Hessen region. It’s a diverse wine-growing region, producing about 50 kinds of wines.
Like other farms
So is the vineyard making money? “It is very profitable some years, other years not, just like any other kinds of farming, “ says Schottle.
A 15,000 kilograms per hectare (around 13,350 pounds per acre) yield is a good one, with yields sometimes extending up to 20,000 kilograms/hectare (aroun d 17,800 pounds per acre). Sometimes, though, a good yield isn’t always good because wine quality decreases. In a sense, it mimics high wheat yields accompanied by low protein levels.
Busy at harvest
Another factor the vineyard shares with Midwestern grain farms are long harvest days. Harvest, which lasts from four to seven weeks, means lots of 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. days. Timing is key. “If you wait too long, grapes start rotting,” he says.
The vineyard controls weeds by applying herbicides close to the vines and by tilling in between rows. Nitrogen is applied to grapes in the spring.
Wary of hail
Hail is a malady that can decimate grapes. Schottle says the vineyard is fortunate in that hail rarely impacts the area. Hail insurance isn’t feasible, due to high expense.
Though an entirely different crop across the world, the challenges faced are similar.