The New York State grape industry faces a predicament of inaccurate and out-of-date vineyard survey data. Tim Martinson (Senior Extension Associate at Cornell AgriTech) and I recently published an article in Appellation Cornell titled, Disappearing Crop Statistics, that further elucidates the reasons for this crisis. And, Tim documents the history of vineyard surveys in his article titled, How Vineyard Acreage and Varieties in NY have Changed Since the Mid-1950’s, which describes how over 70 years of crop statistics tracked changes in New York’s grape industry from the mid 1950s to the mid 2010s.
I believe that a positive business climate for New York grape growers and vintners depends on maintaining up-to-date statistics on statewide vineyard acreage, varietals planted, and annual production. Accurate data supports NYWGF’s effort to market the grape and wine industry effectively, and it facilitates how our board prioritizes research investments. And, survey data on production can provide benchmark production figures to compare against other US grape growing regions and between regions within New York.
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) completed the last comprehensive vineyard survey in 2011. The wine industry has doubled in size since 2011, and two new AVAs were established for the Champlain Valley and the Upper Hudson Valley. The five-year Census of Agriculture, last compiled in 2017, is the only remaining statistical summary of farms and acreage by county in New York. The data includes only acreage by county, but no breakdowns by variety or region are included – and no estimates whatsoever of production. Within New York, grapes are the second largest fruit and vegetable crop by acreage and value, with annual production valued at $69 million in 2017. Yet annual production statistics are still in place for crops with comparable or lower acreage and value, including snap beans (31,000 acres $38 M), sweet corn (28,000 acres $40M), potatoes (14,000 acres, $47M) and tart cherries (1,600 acres, $0.7M).
The growth and changes in New York’s grape industry require current data to facilitate business decisions, research priorities, marketing messaging, and for tracking economic impact. The vineyard survey is a valuable source of data for the private sector to help make commercial decisions. A winery or juice processor could use vineyard data to help identify suitable sites for its processing plants. Farm machinery and input suppliers could use the data to assess the potential demand for their products. And, a company planning to establish a business in a particular location could use vineyard data to assess the viability of particular grape varietals.
More importantly, in order to remain competitive with other US grape growing regions, there needs to be a regular update of the New York vineyard survey. Since 1976, the California grape growers have conducted an annual production survey in partnership with NASS and CDFA. It is known as the “California Crush Report” and the report contains information on new plantings and removals of grapes, and tonnage and pricing information for grapes. The Oregon Wine Board has published an annual “Crush Report” since 2005, and the Virginia Vineyard Association has conducted an annual commercial grape report since 2004. The data collected by these regions supports their research and marketing priorities, and guides continued private investment into their industries.
To address this survey data crisis, NYWGF with funding support from John Dyson of Millbrook Vineyards & Winery, partnered with the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and Hans Walter-Peterson of Cornell Cooperative Extension to launch a statewide vineyard survey in 2019. The survey received less than a 50% response rate, so we were unable to obtain accurate and comprehensive results that we could confidently make public. And, we learned from Tim Martinson last fall that NASS stopped collecting annual grape production statistics for New York State in 2018.
We need to resolve this data crisis for the good of the industry. To that end, we created a simplified grower survey to capture a broad stroke snapshot of vineyard acreage and to document the extent that growers are using sustainable viticulture practices. We encourage anyone growing grapes in New York to complete this four-question survey: newyorkwines.org/grower-survey