Rich Pirog, (515) 294-1854, or Laura Miller , (515) 294-5272
FOR RELEASE AFTER April 17, 2000
LEOPOLD CENTER OFFERS NEW LOOK AT GRAPES, AN OLD IOWA CROP
AMES, Iowa -- Once upon a time, Iowa farmers grew grapes that were prized for
their quality and shipped to neighboring states. Today those vineyards have
disappeared, and most of the fresh grapes sold or processed in Iowa come from
California and Chile.
But the story doesn't have to end here. A report issued by the Leopold Center
for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University shows that grapes could be
a promising value-added crop for Iowa farmers looking for specialty markets or
The Leopold Center report coincides with formation of the Iowa Wine and Grape
Advisory Council by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge, and announcement
of a new Iowa Food Policy Council by Governor Tom Vilsack. The 30-page paper
explores the sources of grapes, wine and juices available in Iowa grocery
stores, and suggests ways to help redevelop the industry from a local food
"It's important to take an historical and current look at the system that
supplies grapes for Iowa when you consider the potential to rebuild the state's
grape industry," said Rich Pirog, the Leopold Center's education coordinator,
author of the report. "Iowa has a history of grape production that dates to
before the Civil War in the Council Bluffs area. Later, this area supported an
active grape growers association representing owners of 400 acres of vineyards."
Pirog found that Iowa was sixth in grape production in the United States in
1919. By 1929, Iowa's production of grapes peaked with a yield of 15.8 million
pounds. During that period, Iowa grapes had a reputation for good quality and
were shipped to Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota. Iowa-grown grapes brought
association members 30 percent more revenue per ton than the national average,
However, interest in grape production sagged in the 1930s and 1940s with the
focus on corn and soybean production. Widespread use of the corn herbicide 2,
4-D resulted in chemical drift, which damaged vineyards throughout the Midwest.
Many vineyards were not replaced and grape production dropped to only 56,000
pounds in 1997.
Interest in agricultural diversification and locally-grown produce are prompting
state officials to take another look at Iowa's grape industry. Pirog estimated
that Iowa would need an additional 330 acres of vineyards to supply five percent
of the wine and table grapes, and one percent of the grape juice consumed in the
state. Two of the state's largest wineries have indicated they also want to
process more locally-grown grapes, rather than using imported varieties.
"Many of Iowa's neighboring states have developed grape and wine promotion
programs to renew their grape industries," Pirog added. "In Missouri, for
example, a program has helped increase the market share of wine produced and
sold within the state, and built on the state's tourism industry."
For a copy of the report, contact the Center at (515) 294-3711, or download it
from the Center's web site at http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/grapes2000.html.
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