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Agronomic Services — News Release


Contact: Charles Mitchell, Regional Agronomist
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
(919) 562-7700

Foster Family branching out into muscadines

NCDA&CS regional agronomist Charles Mitchell, left, and Greg Foster of Foster Family Vineyards and Harvesting take a look at this year's crop.
NCDA&CS regional agronomist Charles Mitchell, left, and Greg Foster of Foster Family Vineyards and Harvesting take a look at this year's crop.

LOUISBURG—Until recently, Greg Foster was a third-generation tobacco farmer and a second-generation logger. Today, Foster is among a growing number of North Carolina farmers to see economic promise in wine grape production.

Foster Family Vineyards & Harvesting came into being about three years ago when it rented nine acres of established muscadines in Franklin County. Greg and his father, Ben, planted an additional 36 acres of their own vines during the next two years. They are now contract growers for Duplin Winery, one of the state's oldest, in Rose Hill.

Growing muscadines requires patience and forethought. Before planting, there are months of planning and soil preparation. Afterwards, it takes about four years of carefully tending the vines before they are sufficiently established to begin producing grapes.

Foster is no stranger to farming, but he did find grape production to be very different from growing tobacco. For advice on liming and fertilization, he relies on Charles Mitchell, a regional agronomist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

"Grapes do not require a lot of fertilizer, but their nutrient needs are somewhat specific," Mitchell said. "I advised Greg to take both shallow and deep soil samples on all his new land before planting. We checked nutrient levels as well as nematode populations. Some of his first soil test results indicated potential problems due to low potassium levels and high soil acidity. These are exactly the kinds of problems that growers need to discover and deal with before vines are set."

Using soil report recommendations as his guide, Foster was able to put out sufficient lime, work it into the soil and allow time for it to take effect before planting. When he set the vines, he knew he was putting out potassium at an appropriate agronomic rate, Mitchell said. Later in the season, he used tissue analysis to make sure that nutrient levels were still adequate.

"Potassium promotes vine health and vigor," Mitchell said, "but you can't apply it at the beginning of the season and forget about it. Rainfall tends to wash it out of the root zone, so you have to monitor its status on a regular basis. The best way to do this is with plant tissue analysis."

This year, Foster collected tissue samples and matching soil samples four times throughout the growing season, beginning in early spring. As his vines become established, he is keeping an eye on their nutrient status. Agronomic test results and Mitchell's advice are guiding his fertilizer program.

With the help of tissue analysis, Foster has been able to detect the need for additional potassium, especially after heavy rain. Based on Mitchell's advice, the problem has been easily corrected by changing the nitrogen fertilizer from calcium nitrate to potassium nitrate.

"Every time we needed to put out fertilizer, it seemed like we needed a different mixture—all because of the rain. Charles was able to keep us on the right track with tissue analysis," Foster said.

Once muscadines are established and begin to fruit, the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division advises taking tissue samples in June or early July. Leaf blades opposite the fruit clusters make the best sample. For vinifera grapes, leaf petioles must be submitted as well. The test measures the levels of all nutrients essential to plant growth and indicates whether the crop is taking up sufficient amounts. This information is crucial when making decisions about fertilizing for the next year.

This year, Foster harvested the nine acres of established vines that he is renting. Over the next two years, his own muscadines, primarily Carlos and Noble varieties, will come into production.

"I'm pleased with my venture so far," Foster said. "Mitchell helped me get my crop established."

North Carolina farmers have access to one of the most comprehensive testing and advisory services in the nation. The NCDA&CS Agronomic Division performs soil tests; measures nutrient levels in plant tissue, animal wastes and composted materials; assays soil for plant-parasitic nematodes; and tests water for its suitability for a variety of agricultural purposes. For contact information on the NCDA&CS regional agronomist assigned to your area, visit the Agronomic Division's Field Services Section online at

Agronomist Charles Mitchell is available to provide advice on fertilization, nutrient management or nematode problems in Edgecombe, Franklin, Halifax, Nash, Northampton, Vance and Warren counties. He can be contacted at (919) 562-7700 or by e-mail at


Last Update December 19, 2008


NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division, Colleen M. Hudak-Wise, Ph.D., Director
Mailing Address: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040
Physical Address: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh NC 27607-6465
Phone: (919) 733-2655; FAX: (919) 733-2837

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