Rolling hills. Jaw-dropping views. Lush rows of vines. California’s vineyards are just one example of the beauty of agriculture. Just like in the bright green lettuce fields of the Southwest and golden wheat fields of the Midwest, along with the scenery comes the realities of working in agriculture. Farming is hard work and vineyards come with their own unique challenges.
Hilly or flat, the terrain can be tough to navigate, with narrow rows and tight corners. In addition to vines filled with delicate grapes come stems, pests, and disease. Mechanical vineyard equipment is specialized to meet the demands and having the right machines for the various types of work is key to success.
While there are several different vineyard solutions for each phase and task in the growing cycle, it is important to begin with one of the most important machines; a staple on every farm: the tractor.
A Specialty Tractor for Vineyards
In 2015, John Deere re-entered the vineyard market by introducing a new suite of tractors, the 5G series, specifically designed for the unique characteristics of these fields. This series launched with the 5GV and 5GN tractors, specially-designed narrow models that fit between close vineyard rows and have a tight turning radius for easy maneuverability.
A vineyard-specific tractor is crucial and is often used year-round in the fields, either paired with an attachment or alongside other task-specific machines. Here is a sampling of how RDO Equipment Co. supports vineyard growers with specialty equipment throughout the crop year.
Winter Maintenance and Management
After wrapping harvest in late fall, the vineyard winter season begins in December and lasts through February. During this season, canopy maintenance and management are done to prep the vines for the best sunlight potential, as well as pest and disease management.
Vineyard pruning can be done with a few different machines, among the most popular is the Binger VSL 07 P. This pre-pruner works well mounted on the front of a John Deere 5090GV and can be set up for VSP canopy or California sprawl. It is lightweight so it can be used on steep slopes and difficult terrain, and its counter-rotating shearing discs cut vines at the grower’s desired height.
After pruning is done, the process is not yet complete. To properly clean up the trimmings, growers can swap out the pruner for a pull-behind flail mower attachment to grind up the leftover trimmings.
Spring Spraying and Weed Management
Maintenance continues into the spring, moving from field prep to ground management. Not just in California, growers are moving away from traditional herbicide spraying and taking a different approach to weed management. Braun’s vineyard equipment cleans and removes weeds mechanically, without using any chemical.
For growers who prefer to manage weeds with traditional spraying, a variety of tow-behind and machine-mounted sprayers are available. Blueline Mfg. makes a great pull-type sprayer called the AccuTech. This sprayer accommodates several different spray head configurations.
Watch to learn more about how the AccuTech’s rate control, data transfer, and technology help vineyard growers make better agronomic and operational decisions.
Another option is the FMR, a tangential fan sprayer that’s designed to save on input costs and product, while penetrating even the thickest canopies. Not only does it reduce drift, its unique design features rate control and the ability to recapture nutrient that doesn’t stick to the vines after being sprayed. This recaptured material is filtered and reused, saving up to 50 percent on the total amount of product applied.
Watch to see the FMR sprayer in action and learn more about its unique design and performance.
Summer Leafing and Trimming
Spraying typically continues into the summer months, with additional maintenance tasks including leafing and trimming.
Depending on the grape variety, a grower may want more sunlight to reach the crop. Many also trim back the canopy to avoid excess moisture retention and possible mold. The complete process brings good air circulation to prevent disease, while leaving remaining grapes and berries looser, in position to develop a harder skin and remain on the vine longer for a healthier crop.
ERO’s VITIpulse Defoliator removes leaves and flower clusters using compressed air, while Binger Seilzug offers a few different leaf removers under the EB490 model name. This machine uses counter rotating rollers to pull leaves from the vine, while leaving the grapes unharmed. A new product from ERO, the VITIpulse Combi Defoliator combines a roller defoliator with air blast technology to offer both functions in one machine.
No matter what method is used, quality machines will efficiently remove leaves, while leaving minimal damage to the vines and fruit.
The full season of vineyard management is important, yet harvest often takes center stage, as the money-making time of the cycle. Gregorie is one of the leading grape harvesters, offering a built-in destemming function, which results in a very clean end product headed to the wineries.
More than three decades after the launch of the first grape harvesters, manufacturers continue to deliver new equipment opportunities for vineyards. Machines and attachments are now available to offer growers year-round support, starting with initial management, continuing with maintenance and spraying, and lasting through end-of-season harvest.
About the Author
For nearly 10 years, Jeremy Smith has enjoyed helping RDO customers find solutions to their problems. As a Product Manager, Jeremy focuses on introducing and developing sustainable new technology for vineyards and orchards. He has a passion for working with his team members, a dedicated group who he says is always working to push the industry forward towards great sustainability and efficiency for grower customers.