Viticulture in the face of extreme weather was a recurring topic in sessions at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium in Sacramento, California, this week, with several speakers mentioning the recent freeze events in BC.
Presenters include Agriculture and Agri-food Canada scientist Ben-Min Chang, a panelist alongside researchers from Washington and California on winemaking in today’s climate conditions the afternoon of January 24.
But the impact of extreme weather on grower well-being was also part of the discussions, with a January 23 panel discussing how to become more resilient mentally as well as financially.
One option is crop insurance, something many growers haven’t necessarily considered important as demand for grapes increased year after year.
But with extreme weather increasing the financial strain on growers, it’s becoming a critical part of risk planning.
Speaking at a BC Grapegrowers Association pruning workshop on January 16 following the Arctic outflow that hit the Okanagan five days earlier, Arterra Wines Canada senior viticulturist Troy Osborne urged growers to submit notices of loss to crop insurance adjusters if they feel their vines might have been damaged when temperatures plunged towards -30° Celsius.
“You might not have to use it, but you will have started your claim,” Osborne said. “One time, many years ago, I thought that I’d be okay and didn’t get around to submitting a claim. I regretted that.”
Nevertheless, BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food staff report that just 24 grape growers and nine tree fruit producers had submitted notices of loss as of January 22.
“It is still far too early to accurately predict the impact of this year’s cold spell,” ministry staff say. “The great majority of growers will be assessing the damage in the weeks and months ahead.”
A freeze last year killed approximately a third of the 11,000 acres of vines in the southern Interior, with a further quarter compromised. This year’s freeze is expected to be far worse, given the sudden onset following a mild December.
In addition to crop insurance, the province continues to encourage producers to participate in the federal-provincial business risk management programs available through the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership, including AgriStability, AgriInvest and AgriInsurance.
This week the province announced a further $2 million for the Extreme Weather Preparedness for Agriculture program, which helps producers undertake projects to protect crops and livestock against weather-related risks.
With files from Tom Walker