Current graduation levels for Washington viticulture and enology programs aren't enough to meet the demand of a steadily growing industry.
As many as 212 people with bachelor degrees and 260 people with associate degrees could be needed to fill new positions in the next four years, according to a study by Agri-Business Consultants of Prosser.
Overall, the industry is expected to add 2,200 to 6,500 new vineyard and winery jobs by 2018.
The purpose of the study is to help community colleges and universities plan a strategy to meet the industry's needs.
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Meeting the need for trained workers means ramping up the state's viticulture and enology programs, said Trent Ball, agriculture department chair and viticulture and enology instructor for Yakima Valley Community College's Grandview campus.
Yakima Valley Community College has between 20 to 30 students each year in the viticulture and enology program, and graduates between 5 to 10 students per year, Ball said.
Washington State University graduates 10 to 12 students a year from its viticulture and enology program, said Thomas Henick-Kling, the program's director. He hopes to increase that to 25 to 30.
WSU's new transfer agreements with Yakima Valley and Walla Walla community colleges will help the colleges see more interested students, he said. The agreement creates a bridge to WSU for students who earn two-year agricultural degrees related to the wine industry at the community colleges.
Opening the Wine Science Center in the Tri-Cities in fall 2015 should help recruit more students, Henick-Kling said.
"The program has been almost invisible, very little visibility because it is spread over our three campuses, and it doesn't have a building," he said.
The program has about 27 undergraduates, each at the Tri-Cities and Pullman campuses who have declared viticulture and enology majors. WSU students can wait until their third year to declare.
WSU also offers a distance program for growers and winemakers. The 120 students involved now are from the industry or are working in different careers but want to make a switch, he said.
"We are on the right track to graduate an increasing number of students," he said.
The study was commissioned by Washington State Grape Society and the Wine Industry Education Consortium, which includes state education institutions with wine programs, the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers and Washington State Wine Commission.
The number of new jobs cited in the study doesn't include turnover for existing jobs, Ball said.
"I think we can honestly expect that there are even more jobs than this report demonstrates," said Ball, who also is a partner in Agri-Business Consultants.
The estimates are based on continued growth in the wine industry. If trends continue, Washington could reach about 65,400 acres of wine grapes and 1,450 wineries in 2018.
Record wine grape crops have become the norm for the state as vineyards continue to add acres.
This year, there are more than 4,000 winery jobs and 3,200 vineyard jobs, according to the study. In 2018, wineries and vineyards could need a total of 9,400 to 14,700 workers.
The expected growth also should help add jobs in related industries. Ball estimates about 5,000 more jobs could be added in distribution, restaurants, retail, tourism, suppliers, research and education.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; email@example.com