OSU Extension study shows Southern Oregon wine grapes may need less water

CENTRAL POINT, Ore. – A new Oregon State University study shows Southern Oregon wine grapes may need significantly less water than anticipated. For decades some farmers and growers have used the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data to determine how much water to use for crops. But one Southern Oregon researcher found that those irrigation numbers were inaccurate. He came up with a system for wine grape growers to use much less water. In the middle of a significant drought, it’s a major finding.

OSU Extension Viticulture Assistant Professor, Dr. Alec Levin said grape growers can use less water. His study found the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Agrimet where many growers get their water recommendations suggested irrigation 44% higher than necessary.

“My sort of purpose in doing this system exists for a reason, to make things as simple as possible. But it’s sort of irrelevant if the numbers are this inaccurate,” said Levin.

Levin created a spreadsheet, which local winemakers can personalize when irrigating vineyards. He showed NBC5 News what the spreadsheets looked like, all growers have to do is plug in their numbers.

“Once we get to 50% we have control over the water. We’ve grabbed that through the grapevines and the soil. Now we’re running the water every week and this is telling us how much to do that,” said Levin.

While he’s currently distributing the spreadsheet to more winemakers, a Jacksonville winery is already practicing a similar idea.

“We do what’s called deficient irrigation, which means we’re only watering based on what we think has evaporated from the soil,” said Sean Hopkins.

Awen Wine Craft Co-Owner Sean Hopkins said growing amazing grapes is the foundation to great winemaking. But the wine industry is susceptible to unpredictable weather conditions… Though it is used to making adjustments.

“Winemakers and grape growers are pretty adaptable because we’re already dealing with various seasonal issues. Over the thousands of years people have been growing grapes there’s a lot of techniques put to use in our specific areas,” said Hopkins.

Levin hopes his study will not only save one of our most precious resources, our water but that it’ll also help make rogue valley wines even better. Levin told NBC5 News he reached out to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on why the numbers were so off. He said he hasn’t gotten a response.

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