The Washington State Grape Society gathered on Nov. 16 in Grandview, Washington, to honor industry leaders, discuss economic trends, learn about ongoing research and eat fantastic Mexican food.
The society gave its Lloyd H. Porter Grower of the Year award to Ryan Schilperoort, a third-generation grower from Sunnyside, Washington.
“He’s known for his preference for neat and clean fields,” said society president Keith Oliver, as he presented the award to Schilperoort. “And his are the neatest, cleanest fields.”
Oliver then presented the Walter Clore Award for significant contribution to the Washington grape industry to Dave Wyckoff, CEO of Wyckoff Farms, a diverse family-owned farm based in Grandview with several processing operations that have served growers in the region.
“(Wyckoff) has been, in his typically reserved fashion, instrumental in supporting Washington’s wine and juice industries through extensive investment and development of wine- and juice-making facilities,” Oliver said.
Wyckoff accepted the award on behalf of all the people at Wyckoff Farms “that make it all work,” he said. “They are the real heroes.”
Then, he took a moment to address the challenging times currently facing the Washington wine industry and the optimistic future he sees ahead.
“We are at an important pivot point,” Wyckoff said. “I think we all collectively have a wonderful future in front of us. And thank you very much for this award.”
Oliver also presented the society’s scholarship award to Stephen Onayemi, a doctoral student at Washington State University studying how mating disruption could be used to control the grape mealybugs that spread grapevine leafroll virus.
Onayemi spoke to the society about his research as well, including the promising findings that pheromone dispensers can shut down the flight behavior of male mealybugs, preventing mating. Next steps for his research will scale up the trials and examine if the mating disruption translates to reduced virus transmission.
The society, a mix of juice grape and wine grape growers, also invited Trent Ball, a Yakima Valley College professor and the industry’s unofficial economist, to share his annual economic outlook. Ball shared some concerning numbers showing the cash price in Washington for juice grapes plummeted from $407 per ton last year to an average of $204 per ton this year, while the Eastern prices held at over $400 per ton.
Washington growers harvested an estimated 165,400 tons, which is just below the 10-year average of 173,000 tons. Total U.S. production hit a five-year high at an estimated 415,260 tons.
The reason behind the pricing drop is not clear, Ball said. “If I had guessed, I would have been dead wrong,” he said, adding that there is a larger spread in price between processors than he’s ever seen before.
—by Kate Prengaman