Growing & Winemaking


Almost Satisfied With Sprayers

June 2010
by Paul Franson
For many aspects of winemaking, growers and winemakers seek new equipment and supplies that can improve their products and simplify their work. When it comes to vineyard sprayers, however, many growers seem quite happy with the equipment they’re using.

  • Growers and vineyard managers describe their spray equipment, and what improvements they would like to see.
  • Most say they value reliability more than innovation in sprayers. Multi-row sprayers that improve productivity are growers’ biggest request.
  • Some technologically advanced sprayers sound good, but growers say they haven’t proven their worth in practice.
While suppliers tout new technologies such as electrostatic sprayers and GPS navigation, growers told Wines & Vines they are most interested in reliable performance and minimal, easy maintenance.

“We usually use our old standby Rears sprayers. They’re reliable, rugged and easy to maintain,” says Mike Cybulski, viticulturist for Premier Pacific Vineyards, which owns and maintains vineyards from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Washington state. He adds that PPV bought a new electrostatic sprayer but rarely used it. While useful for low-volume foliar sprays, it didn’t work out for fungicide, so the company sold it.

In Monterey County, Calif., Steve McIntyre, founder of Monterey Pacific, which farms 6,400 acres, says, “Electrostatic looked like the rage, but we couldn’t really make electrostatic work with the wind and powdery mildew problems we have in Salinas Valley.” Rather, McIntyre says he likes Air-o-Fan: “They haven’t changed since World War II, and they work great.”

Leery of new technology
Jon Kanagy of Nord Vineyard Management, which farms 650 acres in Napa Valley, goes even further. “I’m suspicious of new technology in sprayers,” he says. “We want something reliable, hardy and easy to maintain.” He adds Gearmore to the “favorite” list.

Todd Berg, a viticulturist and pest control adviser for Napa Valley’s Trinchero Family Estates, is involved with about 3,000 acres in the coastal regions, half of the family’s vineyards. He likes big fans like Air-o-Fan, Hardi and Durand-Wayland.

While reliability is vital, most growers including Berg also are interested in improving productivity. “We like multi-row sprayers; they cut labor, fuel and soil compaction,” he says. On the other hand, growers we spoke with are not particularly interested in attaching sprayers to large machine harvesters. “We’re getting away from using sprayers on harvesters,” says Clay Shannon, who farms 3,000 acres in Lake and Napa counties. “They’re heavy, and they compact the soil,” he complains. “Why use a $250,000 harvester to do the job of a $40,000 tractor?”

Berg adds that the chemicals sprayed tend to corrode the harvesters’ complex mechanisms. Shannon does like multi-row sprayers, however, and is tending toward Gearmore. “They cover three rows at a time and use a lot less liquid.”

Other growers use or would like to use multi-row sprayers, too, though they feel these are best for more level fields. Some premium vineyards are in very rough terrain, where even crawler tractors can be challenged.

Berg at Trinchero says he uses some Hardi sprayers that cover two rows at once with nozzles that descend into the rows for full coverage. “They wrap around the vines, so they don’t have to spray very far. That’s good where there’s a lot of wind.” He adds, “They’re nice sprayers, though our guys tweak them with modifications that make them even better.”

Cybulski says PPV isn’t using much sulfur dust, which is effective at getting into every nook and cranny. That’s the concern: The dust gets into the air and spreads. He notes that some new sprayers like Blueline include separate fans for each nozzle, which gives more complete coverage. (Please see the related article for details on how best to calibrate a sprayer.)

With many growers adopting organic farming, a natural question is whether any changes are needed to spray the organic materials. In a word, “No,” although many require more frequent spraying.

Herbicides are a different matter than pesticides. While growers look for wide coverage with fungicide, insecticide and miticide sprayers, they want the opposite in herbicide sprayers. John Roncoroni, a University of California cooperative extension specialist based in Napa, says that new developments include offset sprayers for use under rows and improved nozzles that produce larger droplets to reduce drift. He finds Turbo T jets give less very fine drift with the same volume of water.

What do growers want?
As mentioned previously, growers seem generally happy with their sprayers, but some do have wish lists.

No. 1, of course, is reliability and easy maintenance. Beyond that, growers would like to use less fuel and labor by covering more rows with one pass. And they want to do it with regular tractors or crawlers, not expensive over-the-row equipment. Many also prefer the tractor-pulled equipment: Traditional three-point sprayers suspended from the tractor hitch hold less liquid and tend to have less power, although the three-point sprayers are safer for hilly territory.

Craig Ledbetter at Vino Farms in Lodi, Calif., which manages about 13,000 acres of vineyards around the state, would like to use sprayers controlled by GPS and dependent on GIS maps of areas with special requirements. Like many other vineyard managers, Ledbetter would like to see more choices in multi-row sprayers, particularly ones that can be towed by a conventional tractor.

And a number of growers mentioned that the idea of re-circulating materials sounds good, but are not sure how well it would work in practice.

Suppliers weigh in
Some vendors offer suggestions, too. Joe Pillitteri of Lakeview Vineyard Equipment Inc. in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, notes that advanced spray-rate control systems that regulate the flow of material based on desired output rate vs. the speed of the tractor unit already are available. So is GPS technology that will match foliar nutrients to crop needs, although it’s not widely used.

Pilliterri says, “Growers want higher productivity. They want to be able to accomplish more with one operator and tractor than they have in the past. Growers also are looking to spread the cost of a large piece of capital over more tasks. For example, we sell a lot of grape harvester-mounted four-row sprayers, so something that would traditionally be parked for 10 months of the year gets used as a sprayer.”

He adds, “They also want them to be easier to use, with on-board monitors and spray controls for operators to calibrate, manage and log details regarding their spray program.” He says that many want the sprayers to be more environmentally friendly, with greater sprayer precision. “If the sprayer can reduce the use of chemicals without compromising coverage, that adds value to the operation’s bottom line and helps the planet, too.”

Hans Woerthle of H&W Equipment, also in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, agrees that users are interested in environmentally friendly products including newly developed recovering sprayers that can recycle chemicals.

Spray innovations
Nick Stam of Mankar Distributing Inc., Woodstock, Ontario, provides ultra-low-volume sprayers, which reduce herbicides as much as 80%. These have low drift, no herbicide waste and can apply at high speeds.

Tom Young of Leinbachs Inc., Winston-Salem, N.C., sells air-blast sprayers from Tifone. “These sprayers have adjustable fans to give customers more control of their spraying program. The applicator can gently mist, aggressively blast or anywhere in between, depending on what is needed,” he says. “Droplet size is easy to control with Tifone’s self-cleaning pressure regulator and ceramic nozzles.”

Mark Ledebuhr of Ledebuhr Industries of Bath, Mich., agrees that users are seeking higher field productivity, low maintenance and better coverage, but he adds that they also want the ability to spray a broader range of materials such as fertilizers, clays, fish emulsions and anti-transpirants. He claims that his Proptec line is able to spray from as little as 5 gallons per acre to more than 100 GPA, without major modifications. He also says that Proptec’s non-clogging design is ideal for use with foliar fertilizers, Bordeaux mix and anything else you want to put in the tank, even at highly concentrated, ultra-low-volume application rates.

David Causse of Gregoire Group in Cognac, France, with offices in Moxie, Wash., finds that users tend to want either simple solutions for high working speed—these mainly buy trailed mist-blower machines—or maximum efficiency and cost reduction, which leads them mainly to pneumatic face-by-face systems.

Neil Hauff says H.F. Hauff in Yakima, Wash., manufactures both pesticide and herbicide sprayers. He says the Victair Mistifier PTO air-shear air blast sprayer is recommended for pesticide applications. He agrees that growers are looking for application efficiency with increased travel speed, more coverage, simplicity, chemical savings through 50-micron droplet size, ease of use and compact design. He notes that a few technologies have been around for some time, but they are only gradually being accepted by the industry.

Automatic sprayer controller monitors have more precisely applied application rates.

Hydraulic oil-actuated mechanical agitators have eliminated the need for running the entire sprayer while at the filling station, agitating the spray. “Now only the tractor needs to be running and can be easily adjusted to increase the agitation speed for quicker and better mixing.”

Hauff adds, “It’s not new, but two opposite-rotating, high-pressure fans producing identical spray patterns on each row side are important. They are unlike typical one-fan systems that throw the air up on one side of the output and down on the other side of the output. Throwing the air down on one side will have a tendency to shingle the grape leaves together, lessening the effectiveness of the chemical getting on the backside of the leaf structure. The other side air will blow from the bottom up, covering the underside of the canopy better.”

He points out that high-pressure centrifugal forward-pitch fans create high-velocity air, shearing droplets into 50 micron size without the need to use high pressure on the pump. High-volume axial flow fans create large volume of air at slower speeds, requiring higher pressures at the pump to get better particle breakup; using less pressure increases the working life of pump and nozzles.

Hauff also says that linear air outlets (air curtains) can allow faster travel speeds, less drift and well-directed spray.

And finally, Mark Ryckman of Progressive Agriculture, Modesto, Calif., says, “Growers look for low-volume application and a simple design, along with electrostatic technology.” He says that more and more growers are going with over-the-row booms for directed application.

Overall, sprayer users seem pretty happy with the products they find. The biggest request is for multi-row sprayers to improve productivity, but few growers seem to be seeking radically new or high-tech improvements. Most growers are always looking to improve their viticultural practices, but this seems to be one area where they’re satisfied.

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