Grapegrowers to save thousands of dollars through new trial in SA

Grapegrowers could save up to $2,000 per hectare in input, water, and management costs in their red winegrape vineyards through a trial being undertaken across South Australia.

The South Australian wine industry is currently experiencing an oversupply of red winegrapes following COVID-19, with challenging market conditions and changing global preferences, but new research has provided a way for growers who do not have a market for their 2024 crop to significantly reduce their vineyard management costs.

Research conducted by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, in partnership with Wine Australia, demonstrated that plant growth regulator Ethephon reduced crop load by up to 90 per cent in the first year of a three-year research study continuing until 2025.

Under experimental conditions, when applied at the end of flowering, Ethephon reduced the crop while maintaining healthy foliage, which is vital for the vine to store energy to set itself up for the following season.

Doing so may enable growers to reduce fertigation, water application, disease sprays and other regular inputs. In some circumstance, growers may even be able to avoid harvesting those blocks which will represent a significant additional saving.

“Creating significant cost savings while enabling the vine to remain healthy and produce fruit in the next season is one of the best ways we can support our grapegrowers in SA right now, as work continues between the Australian and Chinese Governments to seek stabilisation of their trading relationship,” said Clare Scriven, Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development.

“Red winegrape growers in the Riverland recently told me of their concerns with managing their vineyards in the face of oversupply and were very encouraged to hear of the results found by SARDI with the application of Ethephon.

“We want to avoid vignerons having to take drastic actions that have long-term impacts on their vineyards because they cannot carry the cost of maintaining vineyards going through their normal production cycle.”

Growers involved with the trial can also apply for a $40 rebate for each hectare sprayed to cover the cost of Ethephon for up to 1,000 hectares per ABN.

Given an approximate cost of $2,500 per hectare to manage red winegrapes, an inexpensive and temporary method to reduce production is a valuable vineyard management option as an alternative to removing vines – and allowing growers time to make good business decisions.

Dr Hannah Brown, executive director at SARDI, said SARDI was pleased to be involved in the research.

“SARDI is proud to be delivering research with such immediate impact and usefulness to South Australian grape growers, acknowledging that we are just part way through a three-year trial, with more to learn about yield in future years.

“Early results indicate applying Ethephon to vineyards may provide some relief to the current oversupply challenges faced by South Australian grapegrowers.

“SARDI will continue to study the effects of applying Ethephon to vineyards in the coming seasons and is committed to ensuring the outcomes are shared with local growers as soon as they are available.

“As a new technique SARDI is continuing to refine the conditions where Ethephon will be most effective. Feedback on growers’ experience using Ethephon will help us understand the best scenarios for its use.”

In a welcome development, China has agreed to a five-month review of its wine duties and Australia will suspend action against China in the World Trade Organisation as a result. This trial provides an additional option for growers who are awaiting the outcome of the Chinese review as trading relations continue to stabilise.

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