Innovative defoliator combines technologies for optimal canopy management - Fruit & Vine

Innovative defoliator combines technologies for optimal canopy management

With commercial vineyards increasingly turning to automation solutions to cut labour costs, the innovative Vitipulse Combi offers growers increased flexibility and efficiency when it comes to canopy management by combining two defoliation technologies.

Ero’s Vitipulse Combi defoliator offers growers the best of both worlds by combining the roller leaf stripping and pneumatic air blast methods in one unit.

Manufactured by German viticulture machinery specialist Ero, Vitipulse Combi incorporates the ‘suck and pluck’ roller defoliation method with pneumatic air blast technology to offer growers the best of both worlds for canopy management.

The machine allows for more targeted defoliation results by removing external leaves using the roller unit, which then clears the way for the air blast to reach the inner parts of the canopy.

Depending on the needs of the vines, growers can choose to either use both systems simultaneously or independently from each other. Using the machine early in the season will also enable operators to use the air blast function for fruit thinning and remove any unset berries.

There are currently two Vitipulse Combi machines operating in the UK, both supplied by NP Seymour. One belongs to viticultural contractor Sam Barnes of SJ Barnes Ltd, who completes around 400ha of contract defoliation work each year across Kent, Sussex and Surrey.

To expand his services, Mr Barnes invested in the Vitipulse Combi last year to support the business alongside the firm’s existing Ero Elite roller defoliator.

“The VITIpulse Combi really lends itself to still wine production because you are exposing the fruit and blowing away trash and debris so that the grapes are kept clean, allowing for longer hanging times and riper berries,” Mr Barnes told NP Seymour.

“It is particularly useful for Bacchus too as the air blast system can remove the flower caps which so often lead to Botrytis.”

Mr Barnes described using the Vitpulse Combi as a standard leaf stripper in 2022 to avoid over-exposing the fruit and risking sunburn in the hot and dry growing season. In contrast, he said conditions in 2021 would have suggested relying more on the air blast system to shatter leaves and blow trash out from the middle to keep disease pressure down.

“Growers do however need to be aware that the air blast system can only be used at certain times of the year,” he added. “Ideally you want to use it before bunch set, otherwise you risk blowing trash into the bunch.

“Once the skins get soft, you then risk causing damage from debris which is blown through the canopy. You can then use it just before harvest to remove leaves and make it easier for harvest, but you need to have a skilled operator who is confident that they won’t hit and damage any fruit with the rollers.”

Specified for maximum efficiency

Alongside providing growers with outstanding defoliation quality, the Vitipulse Combi can also operate at higher forward speeds compared to its predecessor the Ero Elite, maintaining efficiency at speeds up to 5-5.5 km/h as opposed to 4 km/h.

To use the Vitipulse Combi, growers will need a tractor with variable controlled oil flow rates, capable of delivering 80 litres per minute.

“We run the Vitipulse Combi on our Fendt 211V and 211F,” Mr Barnes said. “You could get away with a lower horsepower tractor, but you really do need the oil flow as one spool will be running the rollers for the suck and pluck system, and another will be running the mast and driving the air veins and rotor.”

From the in-cab Vitipulse terminal, operators can adjust the number of rotations per minute, as well as air pressure and intensity as required. The machine also offers the flexibility of stripping the east side more than the west, automatically adapting for each row.

With canopy management labour costing around £1,500 per hectare for double-sided hand leaf removal, the Vitipulse Combi can pay for itself in just 32 hectares of operation, NP Seymour claims.

For more information about the machine, growers are advised to contract NP Seymour on 01580 712200. For contracting services including leaf stripping, Sam Barnes can be reached on 07792 879337.

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