Best Options & Innovations for Tow-able Vineyard Equipment

man towing vineyard

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

One of the most critical pieces of equipment in a vineyard is the tractor because it can tow many different types of equipment used for various purposes. Vineyard owners must evaluate specific towing considerations to ensure a good fit with the tractor and for safety and efficiency purposes. Meanwhile, the towable equipment you choose can significantly impact grape yields and vineyard health.

  To guide vineyard owners in the right direction, industry experts weigh in on choosing the best towable equipment and share new updates to this classic equipment that we can look forward to in the future.

Types of Equipment Towed in a Vineyard

  The concept of towing equipment in an agricultural setting is nothing new, yet many different vineyard tasks can be accomplished by the simple act of towing. A tow-behind grape harvester is used to pull grapes from the vines, while a tow-behind mulch spreader clears away branches and vines while helping to improve soil and control weeds. There are tow-behind tillers used to prepare and improve the soil while improving water penetration. Tow-behind sprayers help manage weeds, control pests and fight disease.

  Another type of tow-behind equipment common in the vineyard is a fertilizer spreader to supply nutrition to growing vines. Tow-behind mowers remove weeds that get in the way of vine growth, and tow-behind vine trimmers control growth on rough land areas and along fence lines and roadsides. Many vineyards also use trailers that are towed as carrying bins to haul away grapes or debris.

Benefits of Tow-Behind Equipment

  Aside from being tremendously versatile and durable, tow-behind equipment offers many benefits in a vineyard. These types of equipment are often less expensive than self-powered options and are less complicated to maintain and repair. Towable equipment is a good option in fields with steep slopes because it gives the operator more control and is designed to be narrower and maneuver through rows.

  The equipment can be pulled by different kinds of vehicles, not just tractors. For example, a tow-behind tiller or sprayer could be pulled behind an ATV, UTV or mower. Modern versions of these products have more power than you might expect and can help a vineyard save time and money due to the reduced strain on human labor.

  Of course, this is a diverse industry, and each type of towable equipment has its own unique set of benefits and applications. For example, A1 Mist Sprayers has a robust mist sprayer lineup that can be used both in residential and rural applications.

  “Besides our impressive compact footprint, the flexibility our lineup provides for the end user, regardless of available transportation, acreage size or vineyard, is truly unmatched,” Jon Kulzer, A1 Mist Sprayer division manager, told The Grapevine. “We have engine-driven options in a variety of sizes that can be easily transported through the vineyard on the back of an ATV, UTV or even commercial vehicle. If none of these options are available to you, then no problem. Our tractor, PTO-driven units can work great in a vineyard setting as well. Lucky for you, A1 Mist Sprayers are unique in their own ways and features universal parts that can be replaced or upgraded as time goes on.”

How to Choose Towable Equipment

  When it’s time to invest in new equipment or upgrade a current fleet, there are certain towing considerations to keep in mind. Vineyard owners need to evaluate the vehicle size, towing capacity, connection mechanism and how much horsepower is required. The terrain of the vineyard is a consideration because hills and steep slopes may require special equipment. Tow-behind equipment will need to fit well between the rows of grapevines, handle the occasional tight turning radius and avoid bumping into vines to cause damage. Based on the size of the vineyard and a business’ budget, renting towable equipment or buying used equipment rather than splurging on shiny, brand-new machines may make more sense.

  Paul J. Licata, the owner and president of BDi Machinery Sales, Inc., told The Grapevine Magazine that it is important to know the tractor specifications and technical information. These details include the tractor horsepower, PTO horsepower, gallons-per-minute flow rate, how many hydraulic remotes it has, tractor weight and overall tractor width, length and height.

  “The selection or options of tow-behind equipment can be dependent on the vineyard’s tractor capabilities, or specs,” said Licata. “As an example, the size of the sprayer being considered has tractor PTO HP requirements, as well you need to know 3-PT hitch lift capacity and towing capacity. For both sprayers and cultivation tools that are tow-behind, a single-row or single-sided piece has one set of specs, while a multi-row sprayer or cultivator has different requirements.”

  Licata said that frequently, bigger is better for equipment. However, he said that a vineyard must consider and balance the costs of running and operating a larger tractor with the fuel consumption necessary for larger models and two-sided equipment.

  “The operator of the tow-behind equipment is very important as well of course,” Licata added. “The same operator knows the tractor and equipment, but if you are switching or have different operators, a single-sided machine can be much easier for an operator who may not be doing the task every time.”

  Kulzer from A1 Mist Sprayers said that when it comes time to invest in a mist sprayer, there are a few things you need to take into consideration. The first question to ask yourself is what your current transportation setup is.

  “Depending on what type of transportation you have readily available, this can help us determine which unit would be best for your situation,” Kulzer said. “Overall unit size and full-tank weight of the mist sprayer is very important to take into consideration. Next, what is your idea spraying setup for vineyard rows? Will you require a volute that can mist two rows at once, or can you get by with a setup for one row at a time? Ultimately, answering this question will help us choose which type of volute would work most effectively for your operation. Lastly, what would be the desired distance you would need for optimal coverage? Since not all vineyards are created equal, some would require larger mist sprayers that have the capability to mist up to 160+ feet. Thinking about these considerations will help narrow down the most ideal A1 Mist Sprayer for you and your vineyard.”

Care and Maintenance of Towable Equipment

  Licata from BDi Machinery said the three components to trouble-free operation in the vineyard are the tractor, the operator and the piece of equipment. Mistakes can happen, and once learned from, making adjustments are key to correct and efficient operation. 

  Licata recommends studying and reading the owners’ manuals for new equipment so that you understand the setup, servicing, maintenance, fluid specs and overall setup of infield parameters for the potential adjustments to specific applications. He also recommends paying attention to the speed of the tractor and maintenance needs. Going either too slow or too fast can be problematic, so it’s crucial to operate the machine at the correct speed for its application. Meanwhile, all equipment requires maintenance on a regular basis. 

  “Bearings and fittings need to be lubed, and belts need to be checked and adjusted,” Licata said. “Cleaning and removal of foreign debris allows for equipment longevity and long-term, trouble-free operation.”

  Licata said that these days, most vineyards are servicing and maintaining their equipment onsite at the vineyard. Therefore, it is essential to have all the owner manuals and maintenance schedules from the manufacturer on hand.

  “Vineyards should have an in-season and pre-season maintenance program that is followed strictly,” Licata said. “Waiting until the piece of equipment needs to be used or breaks is not the time to find out that something is broken due to poor maintenance practices. Following the manufacturer’s specifications for fluids is extremely important, so you’ll need to know the exact oil or fluid viscosity, mineral or synthetic based, adjustments and torquing specs.”

  Kulzer from A1 Mist Sprayers said that the most common mistake his company sees vineyards make is end users not spraying with the wind or spraying on a day with high wind speed.

  “Not spraying with the wind greatly impacts your ability to provide optimal coverage on your vines, which can lead them vulnerable to many pests and diseases,” he said. “Additionally, spraying on a day that has high wind speed could lead to potential damage to crops and create possible health related issues for both animals and humans. It is very important to follow these two tips when utilizing a mist sprayer.”

Updates and Innovations with Vineyard Towing

  We also asked our industry experts about new technologies and innovations in the world of towable vineyard equipment. Licata from BDi Machinery pointed to the CIMA EPA 2.0 System

(Delivery Proportional to Advance) that works with the full range of new CIMA low-volume pneumatic sprayers. When decreasing the forward speed, the system automatically reduces the quantity delivered to improve spraying quantity accuracy. When increasing the forward speed, it increases the quantity delivered.

  “This system avoids product waste and assures treatment effectiveness, a great cost-saving and a reduction on the environmental impact,” Licata said. “Easy programming is guaranteed, as it is possible to save and manage up to 15 programs by entering the operation parameters.”

  Licata also mentioned the OLMI Air impulse de-leafers that can be implemented multiple times during the growing season and are the pinnacle of leaf-removal technology.

  “The machine is air-powered through a compressor to multi-diffusers that are rotating,” he explained. “The pneumatic machine shatters leaves to remove them from the canopy, as opposed to previous technologies that pull the leaves. Trials have shown traditional leaf pullers remove about 50 to 60 percent with control, while the air impulse de-leafer removes targeted leaves at 100 percent with control.”

  The Rinieri Finger is another piece of machinery that Licata said is innovative in this industry. This weeder cultivator allows farmers to eliminate or reduce spraying by using this machine for organic weed control. 

  “The new range of Rinieri finger weeders is for fast, mechanical weeding, up to six miles per hour, with the Bio-disc, which breaks the ground near the plants and then the Bio-Star with rubber spokes for inter-row processing.”

  When asked about innovative features regarding sprayers for vineyards, Kulzer from A1 Mist Sprayers said one of the most prominent statements he hears from the company’s customer base is that the flexibility to utilize these mist sprayers for multiple applications is incomparable.

  “We think end users are becoming more prudent and looking for more compact, user-friendly mist sprayers that do not require a lot of space or downtime,” Kulzer said. “Moreso, end users are always looking for flexibility to utilize their mist sprayers for multiple applications outside of vineyard spraying. Several A1 Mist Sprayers feature an exclusive backflush system that allows for the end user to utilize the mist sprayer for a variety of spraying applications that requires different types of chemicals. All units have been designed to offer versatility to adapt to your spraying needs.”

The Arsenal of Science

Vineyards Require an Army of Protection from Disease, Fungi and Insect Pests 

green and red plant crop

By: Cheryl Gray

Making wine is a science like no other, a science that comes with the ominous responsibility to guard winery crops against disease and fungi. Left unchecked, these vineyard enemies can wreak havoc from grape to root. 

  Companies that know the science behind how disease and fungi infiltrate vineyards strive to offer the latest defenses that are both effective and environmentally friendly.

  Among the industry leaders is BioSafe Systems, a family-owned company headquartered in Connecticut that has been in business for 25 years. BioSafe specializes in providing advanced scientific solutions that offer products that focus on everything from vineyard crop protection to winery sanitation. As the company’s name implies, BioSafe offers products built upon sustainable chemistries for the agriculture industry and considers itself a branded leader in research, manufacturing and applications for this market. The aim is to stay ahead of diseases and fungi that endanger grape crops by constantly developing innovative formulas that offer sustainable ways to protect a winery’s investment.

  Dr. Jodi Creasap Gee is a field research and development project manager for BioSafe Systems and has an extensive background in the science of how to protect vineyards from the destruction caused by disease and fungi. Dr. Creasap Gee also serves as a technical sales representative for the company’s northeastern division and assists growers in recognizing what they are battling and how best to do it using BioSafe Systems products.

  “Pathogens consistently challenge vineyard managers across the United States, making quality fruit production a daunting task. Powdery mildew, downy mildew, Botrytis, black rot and Phomopsis are well-known troublemakers. Extra rain, sour rot and spotted wing drosophila (SWD) infestations are an unfortunate, yet not unrealistic, combination that can really burden your crop. Luckily, BioSafe Systems has several products that can be included in your regular spray program to keep clusters clean for harvest.

  First and foremost, OxiDate® 5.0, our peroxyacetic acid product, packs the biggest punch with broad-spectrum activity on fungi and bacteria by destroying their cell walls. Disinfesting the surfaces of leaves and clusters with OxiDate 5.0, combined with a product with residual activity, can keep clusters clean and protected throughout the season.”

  Dr. Creasap Gee points out how products from BioSafe Systems readily tackle diseases such as powdery mildew, downy mildew, sour rot and black rot. She adds that they can also accommodate a number of grape varieties.

  “I’d like to note that OxiDate 5.0 can be used on concords and hybrid varieties with concord parentage that are sensitive to sulfur. Finally, OxiDate 5.0 leaves no residue on the leaves or clusters, so vines and clusters can be sprayed in the morning on the day of harvest without any residue concerns for processing.

  Another material that controls powdery and downy mildews in vineyards is PerCarb®, sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, which does have some residual activity. First, the hydrogen peroxide component damages pathogens’ cells on contact, leading to immediate cell death. The residual sodium carbonate prevents the development of fungal mycelium and spores for up to seven days post-application. Apply PerCarb early in the season to reduce fungal inoculum levels, then follow up with your regular fungicide program consistently. Rotating OxiDate 5.0 and PerCarb can keep vines and clusters clean throughout the season, especially during the immediate post-bloom timeframe.”

  Biosafe Systems products also effectively ward off certain insects that can adversely affect vineyard health. Independent research, Dr. Creasap Gee says, shows that PAA products, such as Biosafe Systems’ Oxidate 5.0, can reduce populations of spotted wing drosophila by burning their eggs’ breathing tubes.

  “Reducing desirable yeasts on the surface of the berries will deprive the spotted wing drosophila of their food source and prohibits the yeasts from breaking down the insecticide, increasing insecticide longevity. 

  For grape berry moth control, two of our materials have shown promising results: AzaGuard® and BT NOW®. AzaGuard, BioSafe’s azadirachtin product, is an insect growth inhibitor, meaning it prevents the larva from transitioning into the next stage, thus stopping the pest in its tracks. BT NOW disrupts caterpillar digestion when lepidoptera pests consume the Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. kurstaki (Btk) bacteria in this product. This strain of bacteria contains ‘cry toxins’ that bind to specific receptors in the insect’s gut, paralyzing certain digestive functions, leading to insect death.”

  The ravaging effects of insects on vineyards are the focus of Pacific Biocontrol Corporation. Based in Vancouver, Washington, the company has been in business for nearly 40 years. It touts itself as among the first in its industry to champion the science of manipulating naturally occurring chemicals known as pheromones. Pheromones are what insects use to mate. 

  The science behind the products of Pacific Biocontrol Corporation zeroes in on disrupting the mating process. As a result, the products prevent targeted insects from multiplying and taking over a vineyard. By increasing the use of its scientific formulas throughout the viticulture industry, PBC is working toward an end result to boost efficacy while at the same time decreasing costs to grape growers.

  One of the experts at Pacific Biocontrol Corporation is Jeannine Lowrimore, a technical sales representative who has been with the company since 2014. Lowrimore has more than two decades of pheromone experience and a Bachelor of Science degree in entomology from UC Davis. Addressing customer needs, Lowrimore says, is a priority.

  “Providing excellent customer service while connecting with my customers is a favorite part of my business.”

  Pacific Biocontrol Corporation has a wide-ranging pheromone product portfolio designed to protect vineyards, fruit and nut orchards from pests. One of its products is ISOMATE® VMB, which Lowrimore says disrupts insect mating by saturating the field with a synthetic pheromone formulation. The treatment, she says, keeps males from finding females, which means less mating and fewer insect eggs. Repeating the process through a well-managed mating disruption program can result in a long-term population decline of that pest, a cost-savings to vineyards. 

  ISOMATE® VMB is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed and CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) approved. Lowrimore adds that products manufactured by Pacific Biocontrol Corporation are non-toxic and environmentally safe. When used as part of an integrated pest management program, ISOMATE® can control pest populations while conserving beneficial species.

  Moving on, there is the family-owned Inland Desert Nursery in Washington for vineyards looking to plant new vines. The nursery business is here to supply clean, healthy grapevines to vineyards across North America. The company touts an impressive 150-plus acres of newly planted and well-maintained WSDA Registered (Washington State Department of Agriculture) rootstock and scion mother blocks. Ryan Wells is sales director for the Inland Desert Nursery. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in horticulture from Washington State University and has some 25 years in the viticulture industry.

  “Inland Desert Nursery is a certified grapevine nursery so our main crop is actually the cutting material during the dormant season. The cuttings are of higher quality and propagate much better when our grapevine canopy is managed during the growing season in a way that a typical grower would farm their vineyard to obtain the highest quality fruit possible.”

  It is not only what Inland Desert Nursery provides but also how it protects its newly-planted cuttings from disease and fungi. Wells details what the company describes as an aggressive process.  

  “We use a preventative spray program in our vineyards that consists of sulfur and fungicides. Powdery mildew is really the only disease pressure we have in Washington state. Botrytis and sour rot can sometimes be problems in certain years if we have significant rainfall after the onset of verasion. Our spray program is mainly for powdery mildew prevention and starts when shoot growth is around four to six inches in growth. 

  We pay close attention to the fungicide mode of action and rotate fungicides through the season to avoid disease resistance. Sulfur is added to our tank mixtures for every spray because sulfur is a very good mildew eradicant. The only time we do not include sulfur is if the weather is too hot (90+ Fahrenheit). Eastern Washington is a very dry, desert-like climate, and overall mildew pressure is usually much lower than in other growing regions.

  In addition to our mildew preventative spray program, we also make sure the canopy is not too congested by doing shoot thinning in the early spring, ideally when shoot growth is between 10 to 12 inches long. Later in the season, we will also do some leaf removal if necessary to ‘open up’ the canopy. This allows for dappled sunlight on the fruit which increases overall fruit quality and further helps to prevent powdery mildew on the fruit clusters. We do leaf removal and stripping either by hand labor or with a machine. Growers in Washington typically only do leaf removal on the east side of vines, for rows running north and south, because there is too much risk of sunburn to the clusters if leaves are removed on the west side of canopy from the intense afternoon sun.” 

  Whether working with new or established vineyard plants, methods to protect against disease, fungi and insect pests are based on science. Experts in the industry can help growers know what works best for their plants and grapes.

Hidden Vineyards Around the Globe

By: Hanifa Sekandi

As we cycle into another year, we often think about the year we just endured, years past and what may be in the future. The notion of “Are you living your life?” has a strong presence during this introspective time. Also, are you holding yourself back? Are you living a life full of moments you can look back at and cherish? Travel is a wonderful way to experience life. It is during our travels that we collect enriching moments. If you are fortunate enough to travel, you understand the value of experiencing a new place. Is it too late to explore? Never! There are hidden vineyards around the globe waiting to enchant you. Viticulture is more than just a beautiful bottle of wine. It is an opportunity for you to explore, to see all that this life can be. There is something still waiting for you to uncover. Perhaps in the coming year, you will find yourself in a land unknown at one of these hidden vineyards, capturing a moment of a lifetime.

  Dorothy realized on the Yellow Brick Road that there is “no place like home.” Sometimes that hidden gem is closer than one believes. There could be a beautiful vineyard in North America you have yet to discover. Other times, we must push our limits, dive into the unknown and travel to foreign lands where unseen vineyards thrive. The world of viticulture is as complex as the vines that grow. It gives as much to life as it is given. More importantly, it is the hands that toil the land. It is the winemakers who should be revered. 

Hidden in New York

  Many people forget that New York is more than Time Square or the Statue of Liberty. Indeed, New York is a city that never sleeps at night, has Broadway shows and is filled with people rushing to catch a train somewhere. If you are visiting this state, you should consider escaping the theatrical atmosphere of the city and escaping to North Fork, New York. Just east of Manhattan, North Fork is situated on the North Shore of Long Island. This picturesque breath of fresh air is home to 36 wineries, plush apple orchards and potato farms. Here you can sip on a premium selection of wines, cabernet franc, merlot and sauvignon blanc. Many wineries offer an opportunity for wine tasting so that you can experience quite a few wines from different vineyards. Who would have thought that a northern Napa Valley-like place exists so close to chaos? Few, unless you are a viticulture expert, and so a visit to one of these wineries is a wonderful opportunity.

  In 1985, North Fork of Long Island AVA was created to preserve and continue this growing wine community. This is an important tourism infrastructure that allows this shoreside’s economy to thrive. There are many worthwhile vineyards to visit here, most notably Kontokosta Winery. It is the stunning views from this vineyard that give you a breathtaking glimpse of Long Island Sound. It is easy to feel like you have found yourself in a world that seems to exist on its own as you stroll this vineyard or find yourself taking in the expansive views while sitting on the beautiful terrace. This family-owned farm/vineyard is known for its award-winning wines. Its 2019 Sauvignon Blanc won GOLD at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and its 2018 Anemometer White also won GOLD in 2021 at the same competition. They have continued to impress, which is apparent with the numerous awards they have been awarded. The family commitment to sustainability and being hands-on during every stage of the process gives way to exceptional vintages.

Small but Mighty Moldova

  This is one of the unlikely places in the world where you would look for good wine, let alone rare or exquisite wine. Moldova is not a country many think of when considering vineyards or wine regions. As they say, gems are only found by those who seek them. Here, there are indeed decadent red and white wines and vineyards that carry stories of the past. The beauty of wine is that you learn more than just about wine. You learn that winemaking and its production hold different meanings in the country and region of origin.

Winemaking in Moldova has ancient roots from the Neolithic Period. As with many wine regions, the art of winemaking came from settlers to the land who brought with them their winemaking skills. First, settlers from Greece came with the asset of fermentation and, later the Romans’ winemaking expertise. The business of making wine and turning vineyards into a profit-turning endeavor began in the Middle Ages with senior Moldovan servants. Like many alcoholic beverages, only those of high standing or prestige in society were privy to the best bottles made.

  Moldovan vineyards are in Balti, Valul lui Traian, Codru and Stefan Voda. A vineyard considered a hidden gem is the award-winning Purcari winery, established in 1827. The favorable weather conditions in this wine region have been likened to the Bordeaux region. Both the climate and rubidium-rich soil carry similarities, leading many to conclude why the French began cultivating wine in this region. When Russian Emperor Nicholas I awarded the Pucari winery the prestigious honor of the exclusive winery in Bessarabia, it was a great shift that allowed this winery and its wines to be experienced abroad. In 1878, the Negru de Purcari won gold at the Paris World Expo. Today, this winery is thriving, and its wines are exported to over 25 markets. Yes, you can find a bottle of their high-quality wines if you live in one of the markets. But a visit to this winery situated in scenery will take you back in time and take your breath away. It is truly remarkable and a trip worth taking. Pucari is more than just a winery; it is also a hotel, so wine revelers can stay on the estate to get the essence of the old world while dining on local dishes with wine made on the estate.

Swiss Chocolate and Wine

  The Swiss are famous for their decadent chocolates. Chocolate and wine are a divine pairing. So, how does wine in Switzerland measure up? For those who have tried delicately churned smooth and buttery Swiss-made chocolates, you know that the standard for making good chocolate is beyond great; it is superb. The same sentiment extends to wine which has a long history dating back to the Roman Empire. Wine in Switzerland is predominantly produced by vineyards situated in the west and south. Red grape varieties grow quite robustly in this wine region, with approximately 57 percent grown. The remaining percentage is white grape varieties. As with chocolate, wine is steeped in traditions past. These traditions still carry the foundation of how Swiss winemakers make wine.

  Knowing that Switzerland has six wine regions to explore is a bit daunting. All vineyards in this picturesque country are worth visiting, but notably, the Lavaux region, which is nestled between the Alps and Geneva. The Domaine Croix Duplex vineyard, established in 1929, might make you want to pack your bags and move to this beautiful country. If you could imagine a paintbrush in motion, this is what you will experience if you visit this vineyard. It sits in a backdrop that makes one feel like they are living art in real time. At this family-owned estate, you can try a selection of pinot noir, one of the most common grape varieties grown in Switzerland. They also have an excellent selection of the second most grown grape, white Chasselas. Swiss winemakers are also heralded for their uncanny approach to making exclusive wines made with grapes only found in this region. Most vineyards will have a selection of specialty wines. Domaine Croix Duplex has a specialty wine called Grappa de Fleurettes. What makes this wine unique is not just the grapes. It is the process of de-stemming the grapes and gently bursting the berry so the aromatic essence is still present after the wine has been fermented and distilled. This is a sublime experience during a tasting. Add a decadent piece of Swiss chocolate, and it is pure bliss.

  Viticulture allows traditions to transcend time. Where there is wine, there is history. Alas, one must not forget the foundations that were built before them. Everything that we experience today was once a dream. Every wine bottle uncorked belongs to the past as much as it does to the present moment. These vineyards are not just needed to fill your glass but to show us that growth is challenging, but with effort, it can yield spell-bounding results. When you travel abroad, escape to a hidden winery. Meet the people, learn from them and become the ultimate student of life.