2018 Growing Season Recap

By: Bryan Hed, Plant Pathology Research Technologist, Erie County and Dr. Michela Centinari, Assistant Professor of Viticulture, Department of Plant Science

This past growing and harvest season has been, accordingly to many growers, one of the most challenging ever not only in Pennsylvania but in many other eastern US regions. With the 2018 season behind us, we can reflect on what we did right and what we can improve to better manage, when possible, vines under the rainfall conditions experienced in many parts of the Commonwealth. In this article, we will mainly discuss disease and vine vigor/nutrition issues related to seasonal weather conditions. Other issues growers experienced, such as Spotted Lanternfly infestations will be addressed in future blog posts. 

What was the major problem? Let’s start with the rain

In Figures 1 and 2, we reported monthly, seasonal (April 1 through October 31) precipitation and growing degree days (GDD; index of heat accumulation) collected by weather stations through the online network for environment and weather applications (http://newa.cornell.edu/) at two locations: Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC) in North East (Erie County, northwestern PA) and in Reading (Berks County, southeast PA). We compared the 2018 data to the previous 19-year (1999-2017) average. 

If you look at the monthly rainfall (Figure 1; Table1) throughout the growing season, it was as if Pennsylvania was divided into two regions during July, August, and September: the southern shore of Lake Erie, and the rest of the state. The Erie lakeshore was, indeed, relatively dry as compared to the rest of the state: rainfall from April to October was only about 4 inches higher than the long-term average. However, in other parts of the state rainfall was as much as 14 inches higher than average(Figure 1A: 2018 = 43.14 inches versus 1999-2017 = 28.68 inches). Berks County in southeastern PA started out with slightly above average rainfall for April and May, followed by a slightly drier than average June, but rainfall greatly increased in the second half of the season (Figure 1A). This happened not only in Berks County, but in many regions of the Commonwealth which recorded much higher than average rainfall in July, August, and September (Table 1). 

Disease pressure

Diseases that depended for development on regular rainfall, like black rot and downy mildew, were relatively easy to control for vineyards along the Lake Erie shore. Powdery mildew was in moderate supply; not light but certainly not of hardcore, epidemic proportions. To complete the picture, we did suffer more than a little from sour rot in some of our wine grapes due to the heat and return of rains in September (5 inches). We also suffered a fair amount of fruit cracking and damage from grape berry moth near harvest that led to some serious shelling and crop loss in many area vineyards. And then, on October 11, it all came to an end. Autumn, which was technically just beginning, was being ‘run out of town on a rail’; the weather suddenly took an entirely different turn and the sun and mild weather disappeared, never looking back. 

In stark contrast, other parts of the state were dealing with way too much rain that created perfect conditions for the development of downy mildew and late-season bunch rots. Fortunately, from the rainfall data gathered from NEWA weather stations, it appears that rainfall in the early post-bloom period (second half of June – first half of July) was relatively average, with about 2.75 inches during that four-week period. This period is critical for fruit protection when the fruit of all grape varieties is most susceptible to all the major fungal diseases. However, by mid-July rainfall ramped up, and was especially abundant during the fruit ripening period; avoiding fruit rots was nearly impossible under those extremely wet conditions.

Other issues

In addition to high disease pressure, wet conditions led to high vegetative growth and high to excessive uptake of nutrients such as potassium (K). In addition to the timely application of canopy management practices to keep vegetative growth under control and maintain an open fruiting zone, the planting of cover crops under the vines could help limit vine vegetative growth through water and nutrient competition (For more information please refer to: Why should we care about under-trellis cover crops?. Our extension team reviewed several plant tissue analysis reports from vineyards across the state and many of them had high, and in several cases excessive, leaf petiole K concentrations. For more information on K and how to manage it in the vineyard please refer to Assessing and managing potassium concentration in the vineyard

What about heat accumulation?

The 2018 growing season in the Lake Erie region will be remembered as a hot season.  Growing degree days accumulated from May 1 to September 30 were almost 3,000 at the LERGREC located along thesouthern shore of Lake Erie (Figure 2B). In contrast, one of the coldest seasons in the last 20 years was 2003 with 2180 GDD, 800 GDD lower than 2018! In 2018 it almost seemed everything happened too fast. Concord grapes at the LERGREC went from 50% bud break to harvest in less than five months, while the growing season for Vignoles (Vitishybrid) was less than 4 months long. 

Heat accumulation was close to long-term average in Berks county (Figure 2A) and other PA regions, but with extended overcast conditions (many cloudy days!) throughout the season which might lead to moderate/low sugar accumulation in the fruit.  Additionally, the overcast conditions contribute to downy mildew, black rot, and other fruit rots. 

Tips for next season disease management

It is important to keep detailed records of where diseases were worst; those are the areas likely to develop disease first next year. Be sure to effectively scout those areas of the vineyard next season. For example, for downy mildew, that means beginning scouting by mid to late May. The downy mildew pathogen spends the winter inside infected grape tissue, especially leaves, that fall to the vineyard soil. The first downy mildew infections can occur during rainfall (at least 0.1 inches of rain and 50 °F) a few weeks prior to bloom, when vines have developed about 5-6 leaves per shoot. 

We have several very effective downy mildew fungicides, but it is important to understand the pros and cons of each one. The old standards like mancozeb (Penncozeb, Manzate, Dithane, etc) and copper formulations are effective against downy mildew, and are great for multiple, back to back applications because they pose little risk in terms of the development of resistance, but they are not as rain-fast as some of the more modern downy mildew materials like Revus, Ridomil, and Zampro, and may need to be reapplied more often under heavy and frequent rainfall conditions. And of course, with copper, there is a risk of vine injury, that is exacerbated under wet, slow drying conditions. Copper residues from late-season applications can also interfere with fermentation. On the other hand, the more rain-fast, more modern fungicides should not be used more than two or three times per season, and even though the label may permit it, we recommend you don’t make back-to-back applications of the same chemistry, among these modern materials. Also, I purposely left out mention of the strobilurins for downy mildew control (Abound, Pristine, Reason), especially for the more intensively managed wine grape areas of southern PA; downy mildew resistance to this chemistry (FRAC 11) is common and this class of fungicides should probably not be relied upon anymore for control of this disease in many parts of Pennsylvania. And then there are phosphorus acid products which have become very popular for downy mildew control. But these materials can be overused as well. They certainly are very rain-fast and effective, but they can be lost to resistance (limit their use to two or three applications per season) and they only provide about 7-10 days of protection at each application, especially under heavy disease pressure on susceptible varieties. For more information on downy mildew control please refer to  Tips for late season downy mildew control 

There are cultural measures you can take to help reduce the overwintering population of pathogens. These measures are not substitutes for a solid seasonal spray program, and they all have their price, but they can make your spray program more effective. The downy mildew and black rot pathogens predominantly overwinter on the soil surface. Strict control of grape seedlings and suckers under the row in spring can reduce opportunities for these pathogens to create ‘stepping stones’ from the soil into your canopies. However, this practice needs to be balanced with the need for renewals where crown gall and the threat of winter trunk damage are perennial issues. During dormant pruning, remove all clustersnot harvested and as much diseased/dead/old wood from the trellis as is practical. Throw this material into the row middle and chop it, or better yet remove it from the vineyard and burn it (if practical). This is especially effective against Phomopsis and black rot. Upright training systems (like vertical shoot position) reduce the probability that pathogen spores will be splashed upward from cordons and trunk, into the fruit zone during rain.

A wet season like 2018 could be the start of additional disease issues heretofore not yet encountered in prior years. For example, a disease called ripe rot(Colletotrichum sp.) may have gotten a fresh foothold in some vineyards in Pennsylvania in 2018. Ripe rot is somewhat of a ‘southern’ disease, it mainly occurs in southern PA vineyards, but it was also noticed in a vineyard in central Pennsylvania in 2018 (Figure 3).

Ripe rot is identified during the ripening period by pink or orange colored slimy spore masses that appear on infected fruit after a wetting period (Figure 3, left panel). 

Since downy mildew and late season fruit rot management was a major challenge for many growers in 2018, Grape Disease Management in Wet Seasonswill be discussed in more detail at the Mid Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Hershey, PA on January 30, and again at our annual Grape Disease and Insect Management workshop on March 28. We hope to see you there.


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