Spray, Mow And Mulch Your Way To Better Grape Yields

By Gerald Dlubala

Quality wines start with quality grapes. Quality grapes start with quality care, meaning everything from the soil to the prevention of disease and insect damage. Proper mowers, mulchers and spray systems can help with this process.

Slimline Manufacturing: Go With The Flow

Wayne Riddle sells Turbo-Mist Agricultural Sprayers for Slimline Manufacturing, based in British Columbia, Canada. Slimline sprayers take advantage of the wind’s trajectory, transforming a potential setback into the sprayer’s key feature.

“Any successful chemical application is based on good circulation,” says Riddle. “So, we control the movement of the wind to direct chemically loaded droplets to their target. The terminology that we use is the gear-up, throttle-down method, which is to say that we can speed up or slow down our machinery at the proper times to effectively change the speed and strength of wind flow, which then controls the direction and reach of the applied product. There can be different coverage needs for different areas of the vineyard based on factors like soil type, terrain makeup, disease or insect problems. This is where we need to adjust for different wind speeds to apply the right amounts of chemicals for a particular situation.”

Controlling coverage in this way means less waste, easier maintenance, and more environmentally responsible chemical application.

“This [feature] eliminates chemical waste and saves money on both fuel and equipment wear and tear. The tractor and sprayer don’t have to work as hard, so fuel consumption is more economical,” Riddle says. “We stay socially responsible by using the least amount of product possible and applying it most efficiently and effectively. By approaching spraying this way, we leave less of a carbon footprint.”

Slimline’s Turbo-Mist sprayer systems are made for farms of all sizes, from small hobby farmers to massive vineyards requiring four hundred-gallon sprayers. Riddle told The Grapevine Magazine that no matter the size, Slimline tends to attract forward-thinking, progressive farmers.

When it comes to future trends, Riddle is most interested in the management of the sprayers through the use of a data loaded spray controller and GPS technology.

“It would be extremely useful to load a spray controller with information including GPS data to manage and disperse the gallons per acre needed depending on the agricultural needs, regardless of tractor speed or nozzle wear.

BDi Machinery Sales

Bill Reiss, owner of BDi Machinery Sales of Macungie, Pennsylvania, stresses the importance of quality, easy-to-use spray systems that assist wine growers while letting them do things their way.

“Whether growers prefer a high wire, vertical shoot or another canopy system, it’s all about the delivery of the chemistry [sic] to the intended target while using the smallest possible chemically loaded droplet,” says Reiss. “The canopy style the farmer chooses to use determines the correct spray head for the application. Our CIMA sprayer systems can be fitted with a multitude of available spray heads appropriate for a variety of crops. We pride ourselves in finding solutions to the needs of farmers in America.”

Reiss told The Grapevine Magazine that disease and insects are the most significant problems facing wine grape growers simply because wine grapes aren’t native to the U.S. “Wine grapes need to be treated and monitored, and it’s always better to spray early in the season rather than waiting and trying to eradicate a problem once it shows up. Effective coverage is critical, and it takes better delivery using minimal chemistry [sic], smaller droplets with less overspray to reach the target,” he said.

BDi Machinery sells the Italian-made CIMA sprayer line. These sprayers use an atomizer and air shear nozzle to push the dead air out of the canopy, ruffling leaves as it goes. This movement guarantees the chemicals will hit all surfaces outside and inside the canopy.

“We minimize overspray by opening and closing the atomizer which controls the width and reach of every dispersed droplet,” says Reiss. “Calibration is as simple as tightening or loosening a couple of wing screws on a regulator to get the needed orifice opening for the desired coverage. You can easily change the calibration from field to field, block to block, or season to season with little effort.”

Maintaining CIMA sprayers takes minimal effort, something Reiss feels is pivotal for busy farmers. “Sprayer maintenance needs to be easy, or it simply won’t get done,” he says. “Look for things like rinse tanks and minimal grease fittings. Our CIMA sprayers have only three grease fittings and include both hand rinsing tanks and internal chemical basket mixing systems for chemical safety.”

Electrostatic Sprayers Use Laws Of Attraction For Efficient Coverage

“Honestly, the most important thing about vineyard sprayers is that they need to be reliable and work when we need them to work,” says Mark Ryckman, Sales Manager and co-owner of Progressive Ag Inc., in Modesto, California. “They need to be durable and heavy duty but offered in a simple package so they last while proving easy to operate. Ours are heavily constructed and powder coated to increase their longevity.”

Progressive Ag manufactures indirect charging, electrostatic sprayers in several models. “We put a static charge in each droplet coming out of our machines. Plants and vegetation are neutral, so the droplets are naturally attracted to the plant. With each droplet having the same amount of charge on it, the drops repel and push against each other like some of those magnets we’ve all played with as kids. By pushing against each other, they naturally space themselves apart, making sure the vine coverage is consistent and even,” says Ryckman.“The chemical loaded droplets can be dispersed in larger volumes through larger than the normal pinhole size nozzles. By using larger sized nozzles, we don’t have the plugging issue that standard pinhole nozzles can have. The chemical is then dispersed through air induction instead of pressure sprayed so it can naturally land where the attractive properties of the charged particles take them.”

Maintaining Progressive Ag’s LectroBlast sprayers doesn’t take long, but should be completed daily. Ryckman told The Grapevine Magazine it requires only a five-minute daily greasing along with cleaning the electrodes and regular flushing to “have the sprayer work when you need it.”

Ryckman is excited about future technological trends such as variable rate controls for the spray rates. “Through the use of drones, we’ll be able to locate insect problems or disease and fungus issues in specific locations of the vineyard. We’ll map it out, load it in the controller, and then be able to automatically apply variable rates of material depending on the specific needs of each location, more on the high-risk areas, and less on the areas that are doing well.”

Like Ryckman, Willie Hartman, President and owner of On Target Spray Systems in Mount Angel, Oregon, sees the importance of incorporating computerized rate control programming built through GPS or wheel sensors. “It’s one of the things that customers are continually asking for. They are looking for data and the valuable coinciding reports.”

Hartman also sells electrostatic sprayers for the vineyard and says that, now, more than ever, “It’s vitally important to get a sprayer that provides super coverage. Keep mildew at bay early with complete coverage, over leaves, under the leaves, and wrapping around the plant vines themselves.”

On Target sprayers charge the droplets through induction, meaning the particles run through an atomizer for absolute universal size. They don’t pick up their charge until run through the dispersing nozzle, where they get hit with one thousand volts on the way toward their target.

“We use the least amount of water per acre of all the other types of sprayers right now. With labor costs rising, we can save money on water use immediately. Less overall material to spread means less time on the tractor, translating into fuel savings. By using less water, we can concentrate our spray. When you use concentrated spray, there is less runoff, minimal drift, and improved chemical coverage leading to increased performance. In today’s world, that is extremely important because, with the organic farming push, we’ve moved away from systemic treatments and are now relying on contact treatments,” Hartman says. “Improved concentrations and better overall contact are critical and successful. We know it works because of situations like last year when the East Coast had terrible disease and fungus issues except for the handful of farms that were using our sprayer systems.”

Hartman told The Grapevine Magazine the maintenance step not to overlook is rinsing the sprayer after use. On Target sprayers reflect this belief through onboard rinsing tanks accessible with a flip of the switch. Additionally, all components, including liquid, air and the twelve-volt electric needed for droplet charging are separately enclosed.

Mowers And Mulchers For Ground Level Care

Replacement part availability is magnified when considering agricultural mowers and mulchers simply because of the complexity of these machines.

“It’s a real issue at times,” says Kevin Pereira, sales professional with Woodland, California-based Clemens Vineyard Equipment Inc. “We get calls all the time about replacement parts for mowers and mulchers because growers can’t get the right parts in a timely fashion. Sometimes we can help, but other times we can’t because they bought a machine that may not have a physical presence or supply outlet here in the states.”

Pereira says growers can avoid these issues by buying from an equipment company like Clemens Vineyard Equipment. “We have a tremendous history of over twenty years, with excellent support and a United States warehouse for priority parts availability when needed.”

“Mowers are mowers, and when you get down to it, they all do the same job,” says Pereira, “but parts and available service are just as important as features and pricing. Cheapest isn’t always the best, and in the case of mowers and mulchers, you generally get what you pay for. Clemens mowers and mulchers are built for heavy-duty use featuring long-lasting plates and components, and a premium flex adjustability feature for variances in row lengths.”

Proper mowing and mulching protects roots, increases soil structure, reduces soil erosion and temperature, and increases the vigor and yield of crops. Approach mulching much like spraying chemicals, by formulating a mulch mixture to best suit the needs of the area. Sections of a vineyard that have less than desired growth may need mulches with higher nutrient components, while organic based mulches can assist with water dispersal in lower elevations.

Row mulchers and spreaders save time and labor by efficiently spreading mulch, organics, compost and other soil mixes within vineyards. Since they’re considered specialty equipment, it’s critical that they provide a return on investment. For multiple rows, side mulchers are equipped with either dual or single side dispersing, but if needed, mulchers are available with remote and distance spreading capabilities to get the mulch to the targeted location.

“The type of mower or mulcher you should get is tied to your needs. Do you need to mow weeds and mulch, or mow, mulch and prune? The type and amount of versatility you’re after will make a difference in the machine you need. They’re not all created equal, with some being better at certain functions than others,” Pereira says. “Find the happy medium that fits your budget and priorities, but whatever type you choose, regular maintenance is very important. Daily greasing and a quick visual inspection to spot any excessive wear on parts or components is recommended. Depending on the size of the acreage and amount of use, mower blades should be changed either annually or bi-annually. Bearing checks are always a good idea, and as should be done with all machinery, occasional professional inspections are a good idea.”

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