The grape crisis, or rather crises, taking place in Italy, as repeatedly reported, was not overcame by all producers. Those who have been able to, have tried to come up with new ideas and new entrepreneurial solutions. One of them is Giovanni Mangiapane, a long-established grape grower in the renowned Mazzarrone area of Sicily.
"From 2018 onward we had nothing but crises and problems with grapes," says Mangiapane. "At a certain point, I realized that I had to change something; maybe I needed to approach farming from another point of view to break out of an impasse that was no longer sustainable. On the other hand, I was not and still am not convinced that there is a real need for varietal replacement of traditional grapes, as we hear from many sources."
In the background is a glimpse of the 190m row of vines
"With that said, which is not meant to be contentious but rather food for thought within the entire grape supply chain," continues the interviewee, "I decided to try to uproot one-half hectare of vineyard dedicated to the Black Magic variety in order to plant cherry tomatoes. I had to think about how to adapt the structure of the vineyard for tomatoes, including fertigation, and, as a newbie, I had to learn about the varieties of cherry tomatoes available. The choice fell on Eletta from the seed company TSI Italia, grafted on the Top Bental rootstock. Because of its versatility, the Eletta tomato type can be transplanted in Sicily from mid-September through April. In addition, it is a cherry tomato of very high quality."
An experimental project that improves income and mechanizes the process
"Since then, the Sicily area manager of the seed company, Rosario Privitera, has also been involved in the project, and he immediately believed in my conversion project, helping me redesign my greenhouses," says the producer.
"The conversion of pre-existing greenhouses, which in any case have to be high, would cost about €4 per square meter. Anyone interested can contact me and come to the farm to see my new Eletta cherry planting, also because this is a true master project and the structure, which is a canopy, is very different from that of a traditional greenhouse. In 190-meter rows (let's remember that we are in a former vineyard), the plants are planted at 40 cm, two-branched, with the spacing between rows at 2.60 m, meaning that one can enter the greenhouse with the tractor either for phytosanitary treatments or for handling weights during harvesting, with a significant reduction in the use of labor as well. Such a long row, according to what has been reported by the technicians who have been here on the farm, could enter the Guinness Book of Records as the longest row in Europe."
"However, for the upcoming seasons, I am thinking of extending the production campaign by having a long winter cycle," says Mangiapane. "This way, as opposed to what happens with grapes, I can extend the harvest period, securing an income that was previously non-existent because it was tied only to the duration of the grape growing season. This was a good experience that I want to share with my colleagues. I am not saying that everyone should convert to tomatoes but to try small extensions, between 5 and 10 percent of one's acreage, as I did. A transplant dated 7 February 2023 led us to harvest on 17 May and will probably continue through July, with a product that others, much more experienced than I am, described as premium. I took my Eletta cherry to the market in Catania, where I continue to earn returns of about 2 euros per kg. I am very satisfied with the choice I made, and I am now planning to expand the acreage."
For more information:
Az. Agr. Mangiapane