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Oregon Offers Incentives for Efficient Vineyard Sprayers

Wine grape growers could save 50% on new sprayers or retrofits

by Peter Mitham
mike grgich austin hills
Funding from the federal Conservation Innovation Grant program is available to qualified Oregon grapegrowers looking to buy a new sprayer or retrofit an existing one (like this double-row model, above).
McMinnville, Ore.—While growers in the Pacific Northwest prepare to apply the first fungicide sprays of the season now that bud break has occurred, Michael Crabtree, senior conservation technician with the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, is busy overseeing a $75,000 grant designed to encourage growers to spray more efficiently.

Natural Resources Conservation Service-Oregon awarded the funding last fall through the federal Conservation Innovation Grant program (CIG).

Growers who apply for the funds are eligible for a $5,000 incentive payment to purchase a high-efficiency sprayer or to retrofit an existing sprayer.

The existing sprayers are typically rear-mounted units that discharge a chemical spray across the rows of grapevines. They’re simple, cheap and (with the right calibration) functional.

But they’re not always efficient.
“What we want this program to do is take those air-blast sprayers offline and replace them with something much more efficient,” Crabtree told Wines & Vines this week. “There’s a lot of interest, but there aren’t a lot of people been willing to make the leap.… It’s hard for people to justify the cost in their budget to make a change.”

This is where the grant funds come in handy.

Savings of 35%
Crabtree is betting the incentive will encourage growers to make the shift, which is expected to reduce growers' spray use by 35%. Research by Oregon State University extension viticulturist Patty Skinkis indicates growers spend an average of $350 an acre on sprays over the course of a season, so the savings would be approximately $122.50 an acre.

“It starts to pencil out,” Crabtree said.

High-efficiency sprayers manufactured by Lipco are used in New York’s Finger Lakes region and the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada, while Bertoni sprayers are used in Washington state. Lipco sprayers are available through the Pape dealership in McMinnville, which stepped up to ensure the equipment would be available once the CIG funding came through.

The cost of retrofits are half funded by the grant monies, in addition to the incentive payment. A retrofit usually costs about $1,000, so the payment is capped at $500.

A retrofit entails fabrication of a curtain that encloses the sprayer and vine row. The sprayer pumps out the chemical as a fine mist within the tunnel and without the use of a fan, and spray that doesn’t land on the canopy is captured, returned to the tank and sprayed again. This cuts down on spray materials, water consumption and virtually eliminates drift.

The idea for the system came from a worker at A to Z Wineworks who was familiar with similar systems in Australia and saw potential for its use in Oregon.

Interest from industry
During a panel discussion at the Oregon Wine Industry Symposium, speakers including Crabtree and Cornell University extension specialist Andrew Landers said such systems were important in addressing issues that included not only economic and environmental issues, but also reducing operator contamination and achieving more effective spray coverage. (Cornell University produces “Effective Vineyard Spraying,” a guide that highlights the issues and best practices.)

Coverage isn’t always as good as growers think, speakers pointed out. Just because the vine row is in the path of the spray doesn’t mean coverage occurs. Deposit of spray depends on the size and velocity of the drops, the volume being discharged and the amount of canopy on the vines, among other factors. (Editor’s note: Landers wrote in detail about sprayer efficiency in the June 2011 issue of Wines & Vines.)

Crabtree told Wines & Vines that considerations may include row spacing and slope—local considerations that he expects will be better documented through the current program.

Growers who receive grants must keep accurate spray records to demonstrate the effectiveness of the retrofits.

CIG “identifies new and emerging technologies and really sees if they are applicable to the vineyard industry in Oregon,” he said.

Provided things go well, more efficient sprayers could become part of the standard farm practices recommended by NRCS Oregon.

Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District is accepting applications for grant funds through February 2014. One grower is participating in the program to date, but Crabtree expects approximately a dozen growers to have signed on by the end of the program.

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