Winegrape Cultural Practices Go Mechanical

Winegrape Cultural Practices Must Go Mechanical for Sustainability

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

 

Higher wages handed down by the California Legislature are driving California winegrape growers to mechanize many farming operations. Doug Beckgeographic information systems (GIS) specialist and agronomist for Monterey Pacific Incorporated who works with winegrowers in the Salinas Valley, commented, “We don’t have the people; that’s the main problem. We can put bodies out in the field, but we can’t get the work done the way it needs to be done, at the time it needs to be done,” he said.

Mechanical Box Pruning on Winegrapes
Mechanical Box Pruning on Winegrapes

 

So the industry has no choice but to go mechanical on pruning, leafing as well as harvesting. Beck explained pruning has been tough to mechanize. “We’re basically just trying to do a system that is pruned by a tractor, creating a box head that self-regulates—it sets the amount of crop it needs and grows the size canopy it needs in order to balance that vine, produce good quality grapes and produce enough to be economically viable,” noted Beck.

 

Economic viability—profit—is critical, according to Beck. “In fact, it is true sustainability. Otherwise we’re not in business,” he said.

 

Mechanical pruning essentially creates a hedge every year. Beck explained, “Typically we have pruning spurs that have two buds or three buds, a hand space apart, coming off that cordon that we cut by hand. Instead of just having spurs, we let that grow into a box, and the mechanical pruner cuts along the sides and then across the top of the vine in one pass,” Beck explained. “It looks basically like a long box,” he said.

 

Beck has discovered that mechanical pruning into a box shape on the trellis wires, “works across all varieties we’ve tried. We’re definitely in a cool area for grape production,” Beck said, “so those are the kind of grapes that we’re growing: Pinot Noir, Grenache, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris, along with some Cabernet.”

 

Beck said that winegrape vineyards have a lot of vigor in the Salinas Valley. “You also have big crops, which may also require some shoot or crop thinning. You have to come up with other machines to do the rest of the operations that they usually do by hand.”

 

“The mechanical process appears to be working well because growers are seeing a bump in yield of 30 to 50 percent,” Beck commented, “and they are saving about $1,000 per acre. Economically, it makes a lot of sense.”

 

“Quality is definitely acceptable. It’s as good as any other trellis system we have out there. Quality comes from vine balance and fruit exposure to light, and that box prune system accomplishes both,” said Beck.

Drone Technology Benefits Agriculture

Drone Technology Useful for Calif. Ranchers and Growers

by Laurie Greene, Editor

Fifth-generation Parkfield rancher in southern Monterey County and 2016 Vice President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef AssociationKevin Kester, was introduced to the viability of potentially beneficial uses of owning and using a drone on his ranch for agricultural purposes.

Yamaha Drone

As owner and operator of Bear Valley Ranch & Vineyards, the family’s cattle and winegrape operations, Kester anticipated the biggest benefits of drone ownership would be the capability to check on cattle and ensure their safety from a bird’s eye view, and to determine water levels in reservoirs—a task that in the past could be completed only on foot or by vehicle. Cattle safety is especially important for ranchers, according to Kester, as the cattle industry has been experiencing stagnation in production.

Kester said having a drone would also helpful for security issues. He wants to detect human intrusion on his land, a problem that he experienced recently. “There have been some hunter-related trespass issues and people coming onto the ranch,” he said. “We’ve actually had cattle and horses shot.”

Kester, who is also a member of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and the Central Coast Vineyard Team, will purchase a commercial drone package and believes this modern technology will give not only cattlemen, but growers in California, a new way of assessing safety, production and maintenance.