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NRCS Soil Scientists Show Prospective Winegrape Growers the Web Soil Survey

story by John Sackett and Riley Dayberry, Soil Scientists, NRCS Stephenville

On January 25, 2011, two soil scientists from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Stephenville MLRA Soil Survey Office presented soils information to 20 prospective winegrape growers at the AgriLife Extension Station in Stephenville, Texas. John Sackett and Riley Dayberry were invited by Fran Pontasch, the North Texas Viticulture Advisor, to educate individuals planning on establishing a vineyard in the region of North Texas. The workshop attendees traveled from Dallas, Abilene, Glen Rose, Cleburne, Gatesville, Montague, and Fredericksburg. Attendees generally were from urban backgrounds, and at the time of the presentation, about half had not purchased the land on which they planned to start the vineyard. This made site selection one of the major topics of discussion at the workshop. Soil is one of two main issues to consider when selecting a vineyard site; water quality is the other. It is critical that the correct site be chosen because once the commitment is made, it is usually financially prohibitive to relocate (cost of land prices, buying thousands of new vines, and establishing a water supply).

Sackett and Dayberry distributed literature on Web Soil Survey, and went through the process on how to create a soil map, understanding the map unit legend, and running reports on land use suitabilities and limitations as well as soil properties and soil qualities. This opened the floor to a lengthy question and answer discussion on soil properties. In the fall of 2010, soil scientists from the Stephenville MLRA office assisted with a masters project pit sampling (sponsored by Tarleton State University) that took place in the vineyard at the AgriLife station, and John was able to describe to the participants the properties of that soil. This is important because the vineyard was established in an old cropland field, and the pit sampling revealed the presence of a plow pan. The plow pan was an area of increased bulk density because it affected the pattern of the vine roots. Ways of mitigating a plow pan were discussed. Instructors said other issues to consider when picking a site include clay content, presence of sodium salts, water holding capacity, and drainage class when assessing the prospective vineyard site.

In addition to sharing information about soils, John and Riley learned things about the fledgling winegrape industry in Texas. Statistics presented at the workshop include:

  1. Total economic impact to the state of Texas is 1.35 billion dollars annually.
  2. Texas is America's Number 7 winegrape producer and number 5 wine producer.
  3. In 2007, an estimated 950,000 tourists visited Texas wineries.
  4. There are approximately 250 wineries in Texas.
  5. There are approximately 10,000 grape varieties worldwide, and 50 commonly grown in Texas.

In essence, the winegrape industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture in Texas. A winegrape vineyard can be profitable with a suitable site selected. NRCS Soil Scientists and Web Soil Survey can provide valuable soils information to assist prospective winegrape growers when selecting a suitable site by sharing soil's knowledge in the form of soil maps, soil interpretation reports, and soil properties reports.

The Web Soil Survey is available for public use and can be found online at http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/HomePage.htm.

Vineyard at the Station in Stephenville, Texas.

Vineyard at the Station in Stephenville, Texas.