Sam Bowman explores the latest developments in vineyard machinery and reports on not only what will work well in Australia, but what will make good economic sense for growers and managers.

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IN DECEMBER 2014 I was lucky enough to be sent by Wine Grape Growers Australia (WGGA) to the Vinitech-Sifel Wine and Viticulture trade show in Bordeaux, France, to gain an understanding of the future direction of innovation in agricultural machinery and its applications in the Australian wine industry. The exhibition, held across three days, incorporated every facet of wine production from pruning to packaging equipment with an overarching theme of technical innovation. During the event, awards are presented to manufacturers who are redefining the way we think of operations.

GRAPE PICKING

Harvesting technology is something that has advanced in leaps and bounds across the past decade with companies like Pellenc leading the way with on board sorting and MOG (matter other than grapes) removal. The self-propelled models from Pellenc, Braud and ERO all showcase the trend in recent years to deliver an unrivalled grape sample while also improving the efficiency in the way we harvest our vineyards.

Optical sorting, on board destemming, lower operating RPM(reduction in diesel usage) and the elimination of the boom conveyor to on-board hoppers not only delivers a cleaner sample to the winery, but a reduction in labour and machinery costs. Many of these units are employed in Australia with great results.

Well-suited to cool climate regions on VSP canopies, warm inland regions could see a benefit in varieties like Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon which have variability within the bunch due to extended flowering periods, suffer from berry shrivel in heatwaves and tend to have an excess of petiole in the sample.

UNDER VINE WEED MANAGEMENT

There is a lot we can learn from the Europeans in this area. Although there were 850 exhibitors on show at Vinitech-Sifel, there was not a single under-vine herbicide unit. This gives some context to the recent decision from the French Government to ban the sale of glyphosate (the active constituent in Roundup). With a large portion of European producers opting for organic/biodynamic programs, it too makes sense that the advancement of chemical free options would progress with the movement.

German engineering company Braun are leading the way with practical, versatile machines that combine a number of operations, all interchangeable to the base unit. The LUV system employs an under vine blade, flail mulcher and a rotary hoe head which are all easily attached to the same, side mounted unit. This gives the operator the ability to adapt to each vineyard situation which is crucial in Australian viticultural regions due to our varied weed species, vine age and diverse soil types.

With glyphosate resistance already a problem across the country, we should all be looking at ways we can manage our weed populations effectively, efficiently and in the most sustainable manner.

MORE MECHANISATION

The mechanisation of labour intensive inputs, which was highlighted at Vinitech, is an area we would all like to see an improvement in. French company AVA tordable has released a de-suckering machine that employs the use of semi-rigid rubber bristles which remove water shoots mechanically. The advantages of this machine are it accounts for the drip line in irrigated vineyards and the operator can travel between 4-6km per hour, making it a viable option compared to hand removal. Our guide for de-suckering is around 300 vines per person, per hour (working in vineyards with 3m rows/1.8m spacing). Travelling at 4km/hour the AVA machine will cover 2222 vines an hour, the equivalent of 7.4 hours of manual labour. Large vineyards with varieties prone to throwing successive water shoots (Shiraz, Chardonnay) and looking for a chemical free alternative could really benefit from this AVA unit.

MATURITY ANALYSIS

This is another time-consuming exercise that can be simplified, as we have seen thanks to Pellencs’ ‘Spectron’ device. Developed in 2009, the hand held, lithium ion battery-powered instrument when held to a bunch on the vine will give an analysis of sugar level, anthocyanin, acid and water content in a matter of seconds. This device eliminates the need to remove bunches and all information is logged to give an early and accurate indication of harvest date, a great tool for any vineyard owner or GLO (grower liaison officer).

SPRAY TECHNOLOGY

It comes as no surprise there are a number of companies that are refining recycle spray technology and focusing on drift elimination. Companies such as Bertoni (Italy), Gregoire (France) and FMR from Australia are developing robust units, most of which offer a 70 per cent saving in chemical during the early stages of the season.

With high value spray inputs, shoot thinned/leaf plucked canopies and variable spraying conditions, cool climate regions receive the best return on investment. Speaking with growers using these units in these situations, some are recouping the unit cost within two seasons. In other regions, Eutypa and mealybug are issues that require wasteful dormant sprays. Employing these machines early in the season makes the application more appealing to the vineyard owner in both chemical and labour saving, a good option for vineyard contractors in these areas.

CONCLUSION

The positivity presented over the course of the Vinitech-Sifel event was remarkable, it is an exciting time for the wine and viticulture industries and these advancements are testament to the type of future we will be looking at in our industry.
If anything can be taken away from what was presented it is that the global view is one of refinement, a search for excellence and constant development and that is what makes the future such an exciting place.

This article was first published in the January 2016 edition of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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