Innovations & Technologies for Large Vineyard Equipment

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Vineyards use several types of equipment to turn grapes into wine, and this includes everything from tiny devices to huge pieces of machinery. Large machinery is used for canopy management, spraying, maintenance, harvesting and other purposes, which means that vineyards need year-round support from equipment companies to keep operations flowing smoothly.

  Here’s a look at the large pieces of equipment essential to a modern vineyard’s operations and the innovations and technologies that may help vineyards improve their practices.

Types of Large Vineyard Equipment

  Row tractors are the vineyard’s true workhorses and are among its most essential and versatile pieces of large equipment. There are many different attachments that vineyard workers can put onto a tractor. With the appropriate attachments, tractors can be used for leaf pulling, pruning, hedge clearing, suckling removal and various other purposes.

  Other pieces of equipment commonly used in vineyards are spray systems, mechanical grape harvesters and fertilizer spreaders. Rotary mowers, rotary shredders, rotary trimmers and excavators are also used for the various operations required to grow wine grapes successfully.

  To help vineyards work more efficiently and safely, heavy machinery producers have developed multi-functional lines of equipment suitable for vineyard use. When an expensive piece of machinery can do more than one thing, a vineyard saves money on investments, maintenance and storage costs. For example, there is equipment that can handle both berm sweeping and mowing, and hedging and disking can also be performed by a single machine, thanks to modern innovations. These enhancements aim at saving time through more efficient processes that overcome past mechanical challenges.

Examples of Vineyard Equipment Innovations

  Bob Giersbach from Gearmore Inc., a company that provides quality implements through servicing tractor dealers, told The Grapevine Magazine that one of Gearmore’s most popular products is the Venturi Two Row Air Sprayer, which features a fine micron droplet spray.

  “By spraying two complete rows, spraying time is cut in half, thereby reducing labor, fuel and wear and tear on your tractor and sprayer,” Giersbach said. “Also, the atomization of spray droplets is smaller and more uniform to ensure better coverage and less chemical waste and soil and water contamination.”

  Based in Chino, California, Gearmore offers a wide range of vineyard implements, including vine trimmers, leaf removers, pre-pruners and compost spreaders. The company also provides sulfur dusters, rotary tillers, in-row cultivators, soil conditioners and other large machinery.

  Greg Christensen is the go-to-market manager for 5 Series tractors, Frontier Implements and high-value crops at John Deere. He told The Grapevine Magazine that John Deere 5G Series specialty tractors were designed and built specifically for vineyard applications. They are the most popular piece of large equipment that John Deere offers customers in this segment.

  “Offered in narrow and low-profile configurations and ranging from 75 to 100hp, the 5G Series is small and nimble enough to operate effectively in the narrow confines of a grape vineyard and versatile and powerful enough to handle the many operations required of it,” Christensen said. “Recent updates to the 5G, derived from direct feedback from vineyard operators, include new ergonomics throughout the operator station for ease of use; a new front hitch option that expands the applications the tractor can be used for; and a super narrow cab option on the 5GN models for ultra-narrow environments.”

  Rick Cordero, the grape harvester product specialist at New Holland Agriculture, told The Grapevine Magazine about New Holland’s BRAUD grape harvesters. This line has grown in popularity in the North American market because of its demonstrated harvest quality, capacity and four-season versatility. BRAUD harvesters are already a global market leader in other winegrowing regions across the world.

  “New Holland offers nine BRAUD grape harvester models in the North American market. What is at the heart of each of these models is the Noria Collection System and the SDC Shaking System, coupled with best-in-class optional cleaning systems, such as the Opti-Grape and Destemming,” Cordero said. “Our product lineup is capable of harvesting rows from as narrow as 0.9 meters with the Model 9080NH while offering models capable of high-capacity harvesting up to 14.5 tons per hour with our Model 9090XE.”

  Not only does this product offer four-season versatility, but it can also interchange the picking head with seasonal work tools available through New Holland’s vineyard partners, Berthoud Sprayers and Provitis Vineyard Pruning Tools. These tools integrate into its chassis and control systems.

  “New Holland is your single-source provider of vineyard mechanization for your vineyard operation, as our grape harvesters are complemented by our complete lineup of vineyard and utility tractors,” Cordero said.

  Kubota product manager, Matt Walker, said that the Kubota M5N range of tractors is specifically designed to work in vineyards where a powerful yet compact package is required. The M5N range has a proven track record for efficiency, reliability and operator comfort, making it a popular choice for both operators and owners. 

  Walker said that recently more attention has gone to the effects of soil compaction on vineyard rootstock development and fruit production.

  “Due to the nature of working in vineyards, heavy machinery is repeatedly passing over the same ground and extremely close to the vines time and time again,” he said. “This inevitably leads to soil compaction, resulting in poor drainage and restricted root growth.”

  Kubota helps with this issue by providing the M5N-091 Power Krawler, a machine unique in the narrow tractor market due to its Kubota-designed-and-built track system instead of a traditional wheel.

  “By replacing the rear wheels with tracks, Kubota offers its customers a great, low ground pressure alternative to fitting a wider tire, which can compromise overall vehicle width,” Walker said. “The tracks fitted to the M5N-091 Power Krawler keep the narrow profile of the tractor down to just 54 inches while increasing the soil and tire contact area, allowing greater weight distribution, so it’s great for treading lightly around those valuable roots. In addition, the tracks provide additional traction and stability when working in hilly terrain, giving operators the confidence they need to get the job done.”

Promising Technologies for Vineyard Equipment

  While many things have remained constant in the operations of vineyards over the years, new technologies make it easier for vineyard workers to do their jobs well. Updated software is helping vineyards streamline processes and keep better tabs on how grapes are grown and harvested. Meanwhile, computer-guided machinery and moisture sensors offer greater accuracy than manual methods and save vineyards time and money over the long-term. Yet, the most effective solutions for a vineyard’s evolving equipment needs are often the simplest ones.

  Giersbach from Gearmore said, “In general, most new vineyard implements are basic improvements of existing products, such as new vine trimmers that will perform in difficult trellis systems, like California Sprawl. Also, with current large reductions of in-row spraying, more companies are developing new and improved in-row cultivators.”

  Christensen said that John Deere’s JDLink technology is becoming more commonplace in vineyards to enhance connectivity and remote diagnostic capability. JDLink provides remote access for monitoring critical tractor systems and functions. Christensen said this continuous communication, alongside custom alerts, can prevent downtime by helping customers avoid equipment failures.

  “Producers can give their dealer remote access to the machine to troubleshoot potential problems, provide fast repairs or schedule routine maintenance and help keep their machines up and running,” he said. “For operations with a fleet of tractors, JDLink can be used to check machine location, view location history, see reports on historical performance and utilize and compare machine performance across the fleet.” 

  Meanwhile, New Holland Agriculture has enhanced its harvesters’ performance with feedback from its customers and through new offerings and mechanization partners. The company has done this by growing and implementing its Precision Farming and Telematics capability to elevate the vineyard operator’s efficiency.

  “GPS integration allows Row Tracing System technology and the operator to see harvested, or unharvested, rows on the onboard Intelliview IV display or to see what rows have been sprayed or pruned for full integration,” Cordero said. “This is complemented by our grape weighing system on our Twin-Hopper models, providing static harvest data.”

  Cordero said GPS integration allows New Holland to offer a precision farming solution called SmartSteer. This automatic guidance system utilizes a 3D camera to self-steer the harvester by following the vine canopy.

  “It also self-aligns the picking head pendulum angle to correct the unit steering direction,” Cordero said. “This helps in reducing operator stress and increasing harvesting safety and efficiency.”

  Walker of Kubota has seen GPS/GIS technology becoming more widely available, leading to an increase of adoption in the industry as prices come down.

  “By giving the manager and team more information about soil moisture and plant health, vine health can be maximized, while allowing costly treatments to be made at the optimal time to maximize effectiveness and reduce cost,” Walker said. “There have been several interesting developments in automation technology in the past years, and it will be exciting to see where it takes the industry in the future.”

Choosing Large Equipment for Your Vineyard

  With recent innovations and technologies introduced into vineyards, now is an exciting time for professionals who work with large vineyard equipment. Simple equipment can help a vineyard minimize downtime, but it’s still important to regularly clean and maintain it to keep things running at all times. When possible, vineyards should purchase large and costly machinery from companies that it can truly rely on for quality products, warranties and access to parts for future repairs.

  John Deere’s Christensen said that just as each brand of fine wine is different and has distinct qualities, each vineyard’s needs and requirements are also unique.

  “This is where a local John Deere dealer can play a key role as a trusted advisor to help select what products will work best for the job at hand while providing ongoing support throughout the life of the machine.”

  Walker of Kubota advises vineyards seeking new equipment to “make sure you speak to your local Kubota dealer, explore all available options and look at the overall package. While negotiating a new machinery purchase, the focus is heavily on the price and features, but the dealer backup and service capability are equally important. After all, missing a few hours of harvest can be extremely costly. That’s why all Kubota dealers are staffed by competent, highly trained technicians who are linked to our state-of-the-art online service center with all the technical information they need to keep you running.”

  New Holland’s Cordero said vineyards interested in buying new large equipment should plan and plan again, not just for the financial aspect of the purchase but also for the vineyard’s infrastructure, service support and machine transport. He said the things to plan for include sizing the proper harvester model to fit the rows, where the grapes are collected and where or how grapes are transported to the winery.

  “If you will be moving the harvester between blocks, counties or AVA’s, consider how you will transport it and who is capable of hauling,” Cordero said.

  More than ever, during these pandemic times, it is crucial to plan for large equipment purchases to ensure that the necessary machinery is available when you need it.

  “Order from your supplier months before the equipment is needed,” Giersbach from Gearmore said.

  He also advised vineyards to make sure the implements they purchase will end up reducing their labor costs.

  “Purchase high-quality equipment, which usually costs more than similar products but will normally last longer and perform better with less downtime,” Giersbach said.

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