Planting Information Muscadine Grapes

Posted by: Kevin Flatt

Planting Information Muscadine GrapesInformation on planting muscadine grape vines, pests and diseases and potential alternative markets for growers.

They were as wild and untamed as the land they covered. In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh described them as being “on the sand and on the green soil, on the hills as on the plains, as well as on every little shrub … also climbing towards the tops of tall cedars … in all the world the like abundance is not to be found.”

This early English explorer had landed on the coast of North Carolina and was describing muscadine grapes, Vitis rotundifolia, the bronze or purple-black fruit that was growing profusely throughout what is now the southeastern United States.

Potential New Crop, New Jobs

Lanny Bateman, an economist with Mississippi State University, estimates that in Mississippi, 1,000 acres of muscadines would create 56 to 62 additional jobs in related business, or more than half a million dollars in income from the farm investment alone. One million gallons of juice would also generate $7 million in gross sales in related industries, including bottling, labels, equipment and repairs, and marketing. More on growing muscadines later in this article.

Potential new markets.

Research conducted by ARS horticulturist James B. Magee and Mississippi State nutritionist Betty J. Ector predicts that the muscadine will not only be an alternative crop for growers in the Southeast, but a new health food as well.

Magee and Ector have found significant amounts of resveratrol the compound in French red and white wines that is being touted as an agent for lowering cholesterol levels and the risk of coronary heart disease – in the skin, pulp, and seeds of these grapes.

In a study reported January 1997 in Science, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago purified resveratrol from grape sources and showed it to have anticarcinogenic activity, meaning that it inhibits tumor promotion.

Muscadines also contain ellagic acid, a natural organic compound thought to inhibit the start of cancer caused by certain chemicals.

“But,” Bateman says, “shifting to a new enterprise can be difficult for a farmer, particularly if growing alternative crops involves new technology that is costly or time consuming. And there is often a tendency to confuse capability of growing a crop with the ability to market it.”

Neither of these problems pertains to growing muscadine grapes in the Southeast. According to Bateman, a variety of products are being developed from muscadines that will potentially appeal to a wide range of consumers.

“The muscadine, which is called scuppernong locally, was the first native American grape to be cultivated,” Magee says. “Many native Southerners can recall hearing about old-time muscadine hull pies. Production in the past has been primarily for home use—for juice, wine, and as fresh fruit. But small and part-time farmers can grow this crop commercially. Lack of markets has been the limiting factor.”

At the ARS Small Fruit Research Station in Poplarville, Mississippi, horticulturist Jim Spiers and former ARS scientist William Olien developed cultural practices that help muscadine vines become established.

Although mature vines grow vigorously, they can be difficult to get started.

ARS scientists found that planting vines in larger holes so roots can avoid the smooth or polished inner soil surface of auger-drilled holes increased the rate of plant survival. This, along with pruning sparingly and adding peat to the soil, can produce a commercial crop in 3 years, whereas conventional practices take 5.

“Muscadines grow best in fertile sandy loam and alluvial soils. They grow wild in well-drained bottom lands that aren’t subject to extended drought or waterlogging,” Magee reports. “They’re also resistant to pests and diseases, including Pierce’s disease, which can wipe out other species of grapes. And muscadines are one of the grape species most resistant to phylloxera, an insect that can kill roots of grapevines,” he says.

Relatively drought tolerant, the muscadine will have a long life in good sites. And, according to Magee, good management and good varietal choice give growers very high yields of 8 to 12 tons of grapes per acre. Mature vineyards of improved varieties can yield up to 18 tons per acre. Muscadines grow best in areas where temperatures don’t go below 0oF.

Reference:
Doris Stanley, USDA, Agricultural Research Service. Photo courtesy USDA, ARS.

    

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