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Apr. 5, 2020 | Sunday
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Innovation in Wine Country: Part 3: Sensors make pruning grapevines easier
Pete Buis points out new sensors on pruning machine

Tending the vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake is really a year-round operation, with much still to do after harvest and before bud break. The main focus in winter months, when the vines are dormant, is pruning and trimming the tendrils in preparation for the next growing season.

Pete Buis and his brother Kevin Buis, co-owners of Glenlake Orchards and Vineyards in NOTL, have 

300 acres of vineyards to prune every year. Like most grape growers, they’ve used mechanical pruning machines for years, but this year there is a new feature that makes the first pass at pruning even easier.

The innovation is a set of sensors on the machine that can detect the metal posts set along the row of vines, and automatically open and close around them as the operator drives along the row.  

“This is the third version of this feature we’ve seen. In the past they haven’t been reliable,” according to Pete Buis. “This is the first one that seems to work well.” 

His unit is mounted on a harvester machine, so the operator “is sitting up on top, and can see very well. It’s easier for operator comfort.” The mechanical pruning unit can also be mounted on a tractor, which is the more common approach. 

“Ninety per cent of growers already use mechanical pruners. They are great for pulling the tendrils out of the top wires,” explains Joe Pillitteri, president of Lakeview Vineyard Equipment.

With the new sensors, operators have to manually open and close the cutting blades around the metal posts that are spaced at short intervals along the rows. “That takes time and it can even make the operators feel a bit seasick as they focus on each post. The new sensors make the job much easier and they allow operators to go faster.” 

“The people that work on it love it,” says Buis. 

The mechanical pruning machine chops off 18 to 20 per cent of the growth on the vines. “We still do manual trimming,” says Buis.

Mechanical pruning on Glenlakes’ 300 acres of vineyards wrapped up by the end of January, and manual pruning will follow, most likely in early April. . 

Editors’ Note: This story is the third in a series about innovations and improvements in capacity and efficiency in the ongoing evolution of the wine industry in Niagara.

NEXT: Sunnybrook expands and innovates.

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