Good Fruit Grower

April 1

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Photos courtsy of ste. michelle wine estates PRESE A SPECIA SON LS FEATURES T WO GREAT P LATFORM M ODELS Blueline OP33 Platform Most vineyard tasks mechanized But winemakers don���t favor machinetouched grapes for high-quality wines. by Melissa Hansen T $34,800 Blueline OP23 Platform 2 echnology has eliminated the need for hand labor for nearly all vineyard tasks. But while new technology can save grape growers hundreds of dollars per acre, winemakers��� perceptions that grapes from mechanized vineyards are inferior to vines grown only with hand care have made for a slow transition. Vineyard technology could become increasingly important if the agricultural labor pool shrinks, and Congress fails to deal with immigration reform legislation. Tree fruit growers and those of other labor-intensive crops in many states, including Washington, have reported labor shortages of up to 30 percent in the last couple of years. Washington State���s biggest wine producer, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, uses mechanization in many of its vineyards that produce grapes for low- to mid-tier wines. For Ste. Michelle, mechanization is a way to manage costs and improve efficiency, says Mike Means, director of operations. ���For us, it���s about dollars and cents and the types of wine style tiers that the fruit is going into,��� he said, adding that it���s not so much about availability or quality of labor. However, other grape growers have had difficulty finding workers to do tasks like leaf removal because the timing comes when Northwest cherries and blueberries are also being harvested. Keith Oliver, production manager of Olsen Brothers, Inc., in Prosser, Washington, says they purchased their first leafing machine last year because of labor shortages. ���We never thought it was cost effective in the past to do leaf stripping with a machine,��� he said. ���But we can���t find enough labor when it���s time to do leafing. We���ll probably be buying another machine soon.��� Mechanization considerations $23,800 Call Your Nearest Dealer Today! GEORGE, WA 509-785-2595 SUNNYSIDE, WA 509-839-2066 PASCO, WA 509-544-6678 40 UNION GAP, WA 509-248-8411 WALLA WALLA 509-525-4550 CALIFORNIA 509-952-9488 April 1, 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Ste. Michelle uses the vMech system for its vineyard mechanization, Means told members of the Washington State Grape Society at their last annual meeting. vMech is based on a systems approach to mechanization conceived by Justin Morris at the University of Arkansas and further developed by OxBo International. The vMech quick-connect implements (for pruning, shoot thinning, sucker control, spraying, mowing, and more) can be either mounted on a tractor or a tractor-driven trailer platform. The vMech system comes in single- or double-row configurations. Several other equipment manufacturers also offer a full line of vineyard maintenance tools. One of the biggest considerations when mechanizing vineyard tasks is trellis condition and design. ���Your trellis has a big impact on the effectiveness of these machines,��� said Means, adding that vertical trellis systems, such as the vertical shoot position, work best. Trellis systems with cross arms can be a problem for mechanization. Some of the new implements use sensors to detect trellis stakes and allow the machine to go around the stake and avoid hitting it. Pruning New pruning implements���some with vertical and horizontal saw blades���are more precise than the older-style hedgers and can prune to within two inches of the cordon, eliminating the need to touch up by hand. Ste. Michelle is able to leave spurs with one to four buds with the vMech mechanical pruner. ���We can get down pretty tight on the number of spurs left,��� Means said. Ste. Michelle mechanically prunes more than 270 acres in Paterson, some of which have been mechanically pruned since the 1980s. Early on, taste panels found little differences between wines made from grapes pruned traditionally (using pneumatic pruners) and mechanically pruned vines, he said. Pneumatic pruners are used in many vineyards

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