Industry members got an opportunity to see two machines perform mechanical pruning in vineyards this week at the 2020 Grape Mechanical Pruning Field Demo that was held at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension (KARE) Center. The demonstration featured the performance of a Spagnolo SG Spur Pruner as well as the VMech 2220 Vineyard Mechanization Trailer. The pruning was done in vines of the new Sunpreme raisin variety that was recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“We’re testing different kinds of trellis systems for the variety and it’s really an opportunity to grow raisins in a different way because this variety has some very unique traits,” said Matthew Fidelibus, Extension Specialist with the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. “It’s fruitful on basal nodes which means that it can be spur pruned and if it can be spur pruned than it should be able to be machine pruned and that’s what we’re doing today is testing machine pruning on it.”
The potential for eliminating a significant amount of labor through mechanizing the pruning process does require some time and cost. Mechanization can only be done after establishing a trellis system that is atypical for raisins in order to allow the machines to perform the pruning process. Researchers are KARE are working with a high single wire to support the cordons to compare to what was tested at the USDA which was more of a quadrilateral cordon system. Fidelibus explained that there are a few concerns for the Sunpreme dried-on-the-vine variety, such as the clusters becoming fragile during the drying process it can result in some fruit loss. However, the variety overall is showing strong potential, especially considering the amount of labor that can be taken out of the production process.
“This variety has a lot of great traits that could really revolutionize raisin growing but it also has some quirks that we’d rather it not have,” Fidelibus noted. “So, I think growers are recognizing that as well and people are just kind of dipping their toe in to see how well it does but if it performs to its potential then I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of it.”
Listen to the interview below.