When it comes to canopy management, taking into consideration the costs of hand labour, alongside the admin time and logistics of finding and organising workers, mechanical defoliators are an easily justifiable expense for all commercial vineyards.
Germany’s leading manufacturer of specialist viticulture machinery, ERO, has long offered growers a range of high-quality leaf removal tools including the Elite, the ‘suck and pluck’ roller defoliation method, and VITIpulse, the pneumatic air blast method.
Wanting to combine these two technologies into one machine, ERO developed the VITIpulse Combi to give growers the best of both worlds for canopy management – a defoliator with rollers to strip from the exterior and air to get right into the centre of the canopy.
There are now two VITIpulse Combi machines operating in the UK, both supplied by NP Seymour. We caught up with viticultural contractor Sam Barnes, of SJ Barnes Ltd, to find out more about his machine.
Having greatly increased its canopy management client base over the years, SJ Barnes, which now completes around 400ha of contract defoliation work each year across Kent, Sussex and Surrey, invested in the ERO VITIpulse Combi for summer 2022 to sit alongside the firm’s existing ERO Elite defoliator.
With the VITIpulse Combi, more targeted defoliation results can be achieved as the roller removes the external leaves, which then allows the air blast to better penetrate through to the inner part of the canopy.
“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,” said Sam. “It is particularly useful for Bacchus too as the air blast system can remove the flower caps which so often lead to Botrytis.”
One of the key benefits of the VITIpulse Combi is that it allows for flexible use of the two defoliation systems. Operators can choose to either combine the use of both systems or run them individually and independently from each other.
According to Sam, what method the growers choose to operate for the best canopy management results will greatly depend on the season.
“We ran the VITIpulse Combi a lot in 2022 as a standard leaf stripper with the ‘suck and pluck’ system because it was a clean, dry year and we didn’t want to expose the fruit too much due to the risk of sunburn,” said Sam.
“In a year like 2021, however, we would probably have used the air blast system more as it shatters the leaves and blows trash out from the middle, helping to keep disease pressure down.”
Those using the machine early on in the season will also be able to use the VITIpulse Combi for fruit thinning as the air blast method successfully removes any unset berries.
“Growers do however need to be aware that the air blast system can only be used at certain times of the year,” said Sam. “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.”
The combination of pneumatic air blast and roller defoliation technology in one head not only gives growers this premium defoliation quality, the VITIpulse Combi can also be operated at the highest possible forward speeds. In comparison to the ERO Elite, the VITIpulse Combi can work at 5 to 5.5 km/h compared to 4km/h.
To operate the VITIpulse Combi, growers will need a tractor with variable controlled oil flow rates capable of 80 litres per minute.
“We run the VITIpulse Combi on our Fendt 211V and 211F,” said Sam. “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 control the number of rotations per minute as well as the pressure and intensity of the air. There is also the option to set the machine up to strip the east-side more than the west and have the machine automatically adjust as you turn into the next row.
With a ballpark figure of canopy management labour costing £1,500 per ha for double-sided hand leaf removal, growers looking to invest in their own VITIpulse Combi could expect the machine to pay for itself in 32ha.
On the canopy management contracting side, SJ Barnes services growers from 2ha upwards, costing around one-fifth of manual hand stripping.
For more information on purchasing a machine, please contact NP Seymour on 01580 712200. For contracting, Sam Barnes can be reached on 07792 879337.