Integrated Disease Management Helps Ohio’s Grape Industry Thrive

Grape production in Ohio is impossible without managing at least five distinct diseases simultaneously each year with an integrated disease management program developed by OARDC and OSU Extension plant pathologists. Knowledge of disease and pathogen biology, cultural practices, and fungicides are incorporated into science-based management strategies to produce profitable grape crops year after year.

Past and Present: Diseases Shape the Industry

In 1859, Ohio led the nation in grape production, with most grapes grown around Cincinnati and eastward along the Ohio River. By 1870, diseases such as downy mildew and black rot eliminated much of the grape industry for nearly a century. The development of resistant varieties and fungicides in the latter half of the 20th century enabled the rebirth of the Ohio grape industry. (Ohio wine history)

Disease, however, continues to be one of the major factors limiting production. Five major diseases attack grapes in Ohio - black rot, downy mildew, powdery mildew, Phomopsis rot and anthracnose - each of which can destroy an entire crop in a given year. In order to develop and maintain a thriving grape and wine industry, effective and sustainable disease management strategies must be developed and continually evaluated for Ohio.

Today: Growth in Ohio's Grape and Wine Industry

Over the past 35 years, Mike Ellis and OSU plant pathologists have conducted research to develop integrated management programs to simultanesouly manage all major grape diseases.

Studies on the biology and epidemiology of the fungi that cause these diseases provide essential information required to determine timing of disease management options. For example, our research studies have determined that infection by black rot, downy mildew and powdery mildew occurs within a specific time period from the beginning of bloom until four weeks after bloom; at four weeks after bloom, the fruit becomes resistant to infection. This information allows us to target fungicide applications during this "critical period."

In addition, plant pathologists continually evaluate new, more cost effective and "environmentally friendly" fungicides for registration in Ohio crops. The research has enabled us to effectively use all available management options with an integrated approach. Information is continually provided to Ohio grape growers through OSU Extension.

Thriving vineyards from Ohio River to Lake Erie's shores

Ohio's grape growers can successfully produce high quality, profitable crops by following an integrated disease management approach. Ohio's grape and wine industry is thriving and expanding, contributing $580 million annually to the state’s economy and 4,000 full time jobs. In 1980, there were approximately 23 wineries in Ohio. Today, there are over 160. This type of growth would not be possible without the research that has been conducted on grape disease management in Ohio.

The Ohio Wine Association recognized Mike Ellis with induction into the Ohio Wine Hall of Fame in 2009, which provides this testimonial on their website: "His influence can be seen in thousands of thriving vineyards from the Ohio River to the shores of Lake Erie."  Continued efforts in research and Extension directed at the economical and sustainable management of grape diseases in Ohio are essential to insure the future and continued growth of this dynamic industry.

Mike Ellis, Department of Plant Pathology