The Arkansas Association of Grape Growers hosted its inaugural conference Friday at the Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus. Organizers of the event hoped the conference would educate and give attendees an opportunity to network with others in the industry.
"We hope the educational components will serve them immediately," said Dr. Ken Warden, Chief Business and Outreach Officer at Arkansas Tech-Ozark. "These are things that they can take back to their vineyard and help their vineyard practices and help produce more and better fruit."
Guests included full-time growers, hobbyists and students. They were treated to educational sessions covering sustainable farming, grape growing for wine making, as well as wildlife and pest management.
5NEWS Meteorologist Joe Pennington was on hand to weigh in on weather trends. This year's drought brought a variety of challenges to regional grape growers.
“It was a very unusual series of events," said Anitra Fay, Chairman of the Arkansas Association of Grape Growers. "I would say that the harvests were about three weeks early, and it was pretty hard on the crops. The irrigation was a real problem because we were so low on water."
James Dahlem of Dahlem Vineyards said "worrying about if you're going to have enough water to overcome the season or not" was a real concern for him.
Damage to the grapes can result in a significant loss of tourism revenue for Arkansas.
“Tourism brings a lot of dollars to the state, and some of the vineyards are already capitalizing on that, and we’d like to see more of that in the state," said Fay. "It would be good for the state as well as for the vineyards.”
A study conducted by Frank, Rimerman & CO. of St. Helena, Calif. estimates the Arkansas grape, wine and related industries generate more than $173 million for the state.