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Government and grapegrowers join forces on drought

The State Government is working closely with South Australia’s peak wine grape grower organization, Wine Grape Council SA (WGCSA), to manage the impacts of the drought on the State’s 4,000 growers.

WGCSA and the Grape and Wine Division within PIRSA are coordinating strategies aimed at assisting grape growers whose problems of low prices caused by over-supply are now being compounded by drought caused impacts such as water allocation reductions and crop losses from spring frosts. Heavy rain in most grape-growing regions over the last few days, while a welcome respite from the hot dry conditions, has now exacerbated the already bleak vintage for growers by causing significant losses through fruit splitting.

WGCSA chairman, Paul Clancy, a Barossa grower, said the Council was appreciative of the strong support the sector was receiving from the Government, particularly through the Agriculture Minister, Rory McEwen and the head of PIRSA’s Grape and Wine Division, Kris Roberts.

“The Government’s proactive responses to the plight of growers has been quick and practical,” said Mr Clancy.

“PIRSA has conducted a number of regional drought management workshops, issued helpful fact sheets for growers and has co-ordinated the collation of research and development information on irrigation water management for vine crops.

“Unfortunately, little can now be done to reduce the impact of the drought on the 2007 vintage – we will just have to take what comes. However, if the drought continues and water allocations are further reduced in the Spring, grape growers will require a good deal of support to make all manner of decisions about the management of their vineyards and how to sustain them through what will be uncharted territory for everyone,” said Mr Clancy.

WGCSA and PIRSA’s Grape and Wine Division will meet regularly over the next year to monitor and respond to the unfolding effects of some of the most adverse conditions growers have had to face for many years.

Early indications are that all of South Australia’s grape-growing regions have been dealt another blow by last week’s heavy rain. Significant crop reductions, caused by drought factors, have been further impacted by the deluge as grape crops could not cope with the volume of water. This has lead to heavy berry losses through splitting.

Mr Clancy said reports from most regions show that hundreds of thousands of dollars would be wiped off the already depleted 2007 vintage.

“A high proportion of grapes had either gone through or were going through versaison early due to the drought conditions and the heavy rain at this critical period means that there will be a further reduction in crop volumes. With prices at relatively unchanged lows, grower profitability has been dealt another blow,” said Mr Clancy.

Meanwhile, WGCSA is engaged in a regional consultation process to secure grower support for a State-wide voluntary levy of one dollar per tonne to fund the Council and pay South Australian growers’ contribution to the National body (WGGA).

Mr Clancy said that grower support around the State for the new Council was overwhelming.

“Growers have been very strong in their support for the Council and acknowledge that the Council’s formation last year was a long overdue step by growers to take responsibility for the supply side sector of the industry,” said Mr Clancy.

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