By: Alyssa L. Ochs
From sprayers to mulchers, mowers and cultivators, many pieces of large equipment are used in the modern vineyard. Most vineyard owners are already familiar with the types of machinery that work well for grape growing purposes. However, recent innovations have apparatuses that are towed behind powered vehicles and useful in a vineyard setting.
An Overview of Tow-Behind Equipment
Sprayers are a common type of equipment towed behind tractors to disburse pesticides and fungicides. Multi-row sprayers serve to reduce labor and soil compaction with the ultimate goals of controlling pests, mildew, fungi and diseases.
Mulchers are used in a vineyard to clear away vines, branches, grass and bushes to clean up the planting area. Specialized mulchers crush vine shoots and are attached to a tractor to chop up debris for later use or disposal. Mulchers are vital because they help improve soil fertility, control pests and weeds and produce useful organic material.
Another towable piece of equipment is the mower, used in vineyards to cut tall weeds that impede grape growth. Vineyard owners can ensure proper growth of cover crops by shredding vines, tree prunings and leaf debris.
The cultivator is effective in controlling weeds without the use of chemicals. Cultivators uproot weeds mechanically while creating zero emissions, waste or pollution when used for hoeing, weeding or soil aeration. Vineyard staff often use cultivators for hoeing vines after the heavy rains at the end of winter.
Features to Look for inTow-Behind Equipment
When a vineyard is in the market for a new sprayer, they should look for equipment that offers complete coverage to wrap around vines and over and under leaves. Other beneficial features include width and height adjustment for rows, wind covers to keep spray from blowing away, the ability to maneuver well, lightweight construction and different tank size options.
Based in Oliver, British Columbia, Canada, Munckhof Manufacturing offers various equipment for vineyards and orchards. These include sprayers, soil working machines, sweepers, mounting equipment, bin handling devices, pre-pruners, trimmers and hedgers. For sprayers, Munckhof sells high-density tower sprayers, conventional output sprayers, herbicide sprayers, skid/gun sprayers and vineyard tower sprayers that are lateral row configurations.
Dennis van den Munckhof told The Grapevine Magazine, “Conventional radial output sprayers have been the catch-all standby for decades, but we build high-efficiency towers and output systems today that are simple and do a great job of directing the output and closing the drift distance between the sprayer and the target.”
For mulchers, vineyard owners typically consider how finely machines chop up the crop residue, the vibration, and the power draw balance for performance and machine longevity. Another consideration is the different sizes available to suit the vineyard’s land. Mulchers can be attached to the front or the rear of a tractor and have adjustable collecting rakes to catch residue and break it down further into a fine mulch.
A vineyard mower should efficiently cut through thick cover crops and tree and vine prunings. It should also be able to reach under overhanging branches and vines and cut overgrown areas without the need to clear material first.
Cultivators move at the tractor’s speed, which is about four to seven miles per hour. When looking for a new cultivator, consider a model with an adjustable spring-loaded retraction system and a weeder head that spins around the vines.
According to Paul Licata from BDi Machinery Sales, Inc. in Macungie, Pennsylvania, the new Rinieri Bio-Dynamic product is ideal for fast inter-row mechanical weeding of vineyards, hemp, orchards and other cultivation applications. BDi Machinery offers various innovative specialty agricultural machinery, including sprayers, hedgers, leaf removers, shredders, cultivators, pruners, mowers, row mulchers and more. This company has been in the industry since 1996 and prides itself on being a partner to its direct customers and customers of its dealers to provide the latest technological advances in agricultural equipment.
“The Bio-Dynamic product features a Bio-disc, a toothed disc that breaks the ground near the plants, a Bio-Star head and a patented rubber star, which is available in different sizes,” Licata told The Grapevine Magazine. “Through its rays, it performs the inter-row processing and eliminates weeds near the plants.”
A Look at New Technology and Innovations
Although many features of sprayers, mulchers, mowers and cultivators have remained the same for decades, there have been some useful updates to these machines recently. For example, vineyard owners can now buy sprayers with more nozzles per head for improved efficiency and with better airflow designs. Other modern developments include electrostatic sprayers, GPS navigation and automatic sprayer controllers and monitors for precise application.
There are new laser cutting and robotic welding technologies used today on modern mulchers. Mulchers are also being designed now with higher resistance to wear over time.
For mowing, vineyards can invest in robotic mowers for more precise cutting between grapevines with a central computation system. Sensor data to plan paths and automate motors with GPS positioning can help new mowers get closer to plants without damaging them.
Meanwhile, cultivator manufacturers create more powerful models that work better in difficult soil conditions.
“The Rinieri BioDynamic has the Bio-Disc group that is a new technology and innovation,” said Licata. “Machines are equipped with two discs for vineyards and work for other applications too, such as hemp and blueberries, while the orchard version has three or four discs.”
“Equally new and innovative is the Bio-Star that is available in three different sizes, with a diameter of 21, 27 and 37 inches,” Licata said. “It has rubber spokes of three different consistencies – soft, medium and hard – so you can choose according to the type of soil and culture.”
However, integration of new technology does not necessarily mean the product is better or the best suited for the vineyard’s needs. Continued education about new technologies will help vineyard managers make wise purchasing decisions and not complicate operations with minimal benefit.
“Be wary of overly complicated ‘new tech’ output systems,” said Munckhof. “If you want to integrate new tech into your operations, I would recommend looking to computer monitoring and metering to aid in decision making and compliment a proven design.”
Maintenance Considerations for Towable Equipment
As with any piece of equipment used in a vineyard, sprayers, mulchers, mowers and cultivators will need to be maintained and repaired over the years. If possible, talk with other vineyard owners and operators about the machines they use and their ease of maintenance. With regular use, it will be necessary to check for debris stuck inside the equipment and to assess the sharpness of the cutting blades from year to year. These are things to discuss with the manufacturer or dealer before making any major purchase for the vineyard.
When buying any new agricultural machinery, read the owner’s manual to learn proper machine operations and maintenance. Reduce wear and tear by lubricating cables and chains and pressure-washing the equipment to prevent mud build-up, rust and eroded enamel coatings. A little extra work in maintaining machinery can go a long way in avoiding future hassles and huge expenses.
Final Tips and Words of Advice
Munckhof told The Grapevine Magazine, “The best advice I could give to prospective buyers is to keep it simple and look for a machine that is a match to the crop they are trying to protect.”
He also said to consider the product’s serviceability and what kind of support you can expect to get in the years ahead. “We have been in business since ‘79 and still see equipment from the early ‘80s in commercial use. Credit due to the operator’s maintenance, but also because we offer parts and support and because the machines are designed to last.”
Similarly, Licata said the most important thing for an operator of a vineyard is working with a trusted machinery distributor that provides service, parts and support. “Although machines are built to be durable, when issues happen in the field, the support to getting back up and running as quickly as possible is essential.”