This year’s grape harvest was 25% lower than the average crop yield because of the very little rain, with the rain being so abundant the few times it poured that it actually did more harm than good, according to one of Malta’s main wine producers.

Marsovin chief executive Jeremy Cassar said that although the agriculture year started off on the right track with abundant autumn rainfall last year, there was no rain at all through 2020, with the exception of two episodes which harmed the grape produce. A hailstorm late in May caused havoc in certain areas, with up to 75% of the grapes being lost in some vineyards.

Cassar said the bulk of the old traditional non-irrigated indigenous Girgentina and Ġellewża vines was once again affected by the excessive drought conditions, with older vineyards suffering a considerable decline in production due to water stress, and in some cases resulting in the death of the vines.

The colder than average winter months of 2019 led to the latest grape harvest on record last year resulting in grape bunches not reaching full maturity.

Contrary to the previous year, 2020 saw a relatively warm winter which impedes abundant vine fertility, leading to lower yields.

All the weather adversities, together with the general ageing of the vineyards, resulted in a reduction of 5% in grape produce over the record low year of 2019.

On the upturn, the relatively warm weather in late winter and the beginning of spring resulted in early budburst, which in conjunction with consistent summer temperatures ensured a long progressive gradual maturation resulting in high natural sugar levels, and, therefore, excellent grape quality. 

Cassar said the biggest challenges farmers were facing included the replacement of vines planted between 2004 and 2006. Under Malta’s climate conditions, most vineyards are economically viable for around 20 to 25 years so farmers would require additional assistance to plant new vines. 

Another issue was the lack of agricultural land where to plant vines, with the few young farmers wanting to focus on viticulture finding it difficult to find land to till.

This is turning agriculture in Malta into a part-time hobby, rendering it economically unviable, he said.

Anyone with agriculture land which is not tilled, is used for the production of fodder, or simply tilled once a year in winter and not used productively receives around €213 per tumolo.

This is encouraging land tenants/owners to hold tight to their land without being productive and reducing the chances of new young farmers to find land to use productively, Cassar said.

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