Mechanising Small Vineyards: Tools to Unlock Efficiency

Viticulturist enjoying benefits of mechanisation in small vineyard

Mechanising tasks enable vineyard operators to efficiently cover more ground while ensuring that work is completed within optimal windows for grape production. But is it just for the large operators, or are there benefits for small producers?

Adam Hogg is the Dealer Principal at Margaret River Machinery, and supports both corporate and boutique grape growers in their region and says “Mechanisation isn’t just about scale, it benefits vineyard operators to execute timely cultural practices. Having the right equipment means they can complete tasks without the delays caused by labour availability or weather conditions.”

This ensures that necessary activities are carried out when needed for optimal fruit development, giving growers both flexibility and control of their vineyard operations.

Build from a base 

Adam recommends choosing equipment that provides a flexible foundation for your vineyard tools. “Look for base units that can support multiple tools, such as the Xtrem tool carrier for weeding and tillage implements, or the ERO mast for trimmers that can be adapted for shielded herbicide application systems. “

Multitasking Operations 

For small blocks with limited access to labour, combining compatible tasks can enhance overall efficiency. Sweeping and mulching vine prunings in a single pass, or trimming and slashing are examples of multitasking opportunities. The ideal setup is to have a flexible tool carrier system, with front and rear tractor mount options to use different implements for the tasks at hand.

Selecting a sprayer such as the affordable Octopus Plus that covers two or more rows per pass also saves time and resources. In a small vineyard, several tasks can be mechanised to improve efficiency and vine health. These include:

  • Mechanically prunes the canes to above detail pruning level and mulches this material to the ground
  • Makes detail hand pruning process easier and faster
  • Can save growers significantly in detail pruning costs
  • Used to control vigorous canopy growth caused by factors like excessive rain or irrigation
  • Improved fruit development
  • Reduced disease pressure
  • Allowing passage for equipment such as tractors and sprayers to pass through
  • Better penetration of chemicals into the canopy
  • The roller defoliator removes leaves from the fruit zone, opening up the fruit zone to light and airflow
  • Optimised grape development, and reduced disease pressure with improved airflow and access for sprays with a wide window of use
  • Has proven to help increase the colour grading in reds when used in warm climates
  • Also used prior to hand harvesting, reducing harvesting costs by up to 30%
Undervine weed control
  • Mechanical tillage to break up and remove weeds
  • Select tools to work at different depths and get in close to the vine and posts
  • Undervine mowing, reducing competition for water & nutrient in undervine zone
  • Remove weeds before they get established or “pull-down” mounds around the vines
  • Break up hard to manage weeds like Paspalum
  • Reduce herbicide applications, protecting vulnerable vines and managing costs
Mid-Row Slashing and Mulching
  • Cuts down grass growth in the mid-rows, and chops up pruned canes
  • Material is finely chopped and left as organic mulch
  • Quickly knocks down growth, improving access for workers and machinery
  • Mower heads with sensors can move around vines and posts, while variable width machinery suits blocks with inconsistent row widths

Return on Investment

When looking at vineyard equipment, Adam recommends that growers do not just look at the capital cost alone.

“We take the time to talk through each task in terms of tractor hours, contract labour cost and availability and yield risk” says Adam “A grower can start seeing positive impacts straight away through labour and fuel efficiency gains.”

The right advice

It is essential for growers to understand potential equipment’s abilities, limitations, and requirements before making investment decisions.

Speak with your local dealer or the team at AME to discuss important factors like row width, canopy type, and your current tractor specs to help determine the right equipment for your vineyard.

Get the right advice on mechanisation in small vineyards from AME.

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