US (CA): Extreme heat and birds threaten Valley grapes

US (CA): Extreme heat and birds threaten Valley grapes

Some Valley growers are in a race against time. The heat is ripening grapes on the vine while labourers work shorter hours because of the high heat. Bright reflective foil strips fly over a Madera vineyard to keep the birds away from the red flame seedless grapes.

Michelle Shackelford of Robert Johnson Farms explained, “Hopefully the wind scares the birds away by flapping the tape.” But Shackelford said the strips don’t keep enough of the hungry birds away. “No, they don’t. It lasts for about a day. Helps for about a day.”

Fortunately the grape crop was healthy and heavy. Shackelford said the red flame harvest started a little early this year. In another week all of the bunches will be a nice red colour because of the intense heat.

Michelle said, “This heat is pushing them to colour. They’re colouring much faster.”

The leafy canopy helps protect the grapes from sunburn as does the grass growing in each row. Shackelford said, “Grapes need circulation, air circulation to prevent mildew growth but on top they like a nice umbrella.”

Shackelford added the hot streak will damage some of her varieties.

“It’s also going to impact I think the Thompson crop, “said Shackelford. “I think we’re going to see some burn on 5-10% of the crop.”

The red flames are sold locally at The Market and Whole Foods under the Robert Johnson Farms label as well as the Jenelle brand, which combines the names of Michelle and her sister Jennifer.

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Publication date: 7/9/2014