2020 saw another year of substantial plantings in the UK. It is estimated that approximately 1.5-1.8 million vines went in the ground this May which equates to about 360 Ha. While that’s a lot of vines to manage, it also means a lot of posts and wire will be required to support them.

At Vine-Works we have been fortunate to secure about a third of all the trellis installations in the UK this year, or put another way, about 600km worth. With these daunting figures it was imperative as a business to look at more efficient ways of installing culture systems. Advances in the increased accuracy and affordability of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), has meant that its application to viticulture has become increasingly dependent. GPS has already been used for a decade in vineyard establishment. Only recently has that technology transferred to post
installation.

When we did our research, we discovered two options were available: A tractor mounted post pile driver vs a self-contained tracked vehicle. With this technology costing between £80-100,000 it was not an easy decision, but in the end we settled for the Italian made Pauselli self-contained tracked vehicle. This modern, dynamic company was founded in 1986 in Citta di Castello in central Italy, and primarily produced GPS pile driving machines for guard rails in the construction and roadworks industry, as well as solar/PV panels and fencing.

The primary advantage to a GPS post driver is speed! On a typical site there are a number of operations required before a post is inserted in the ground. One of the most laborious of these tasks is laying the post out into position. This can take up to six hours per hectare depending on the site. The Pauselli allows us to carry the posts needed for a row, thus eliminating the need to drive through the vineyard placing posts at the desired position. Removing this operation reduces the impact on the vineyard floor that heavy machinery can cause. Less mechanical operations in the vineyard means less chance of compaction in the root zone.

The GPS is also a big-time saver. We are now able to map the vineyard and accurately program the machine to determine each post site in the rows. This operation used to require a team to mark out the post positions using string and spray painting the ground prior to post insertion. The GPS removes this task that once could take up to a full day per Ha. The operator is able to control the machine with a hand held remote and drive it to within two metres of each position where the GPS takes over and determines the accurate spot, levels itself, and drives the post with a vibrational rammer into the desired pre-set depth. With the conventional methods we could spend as much as several minutes positioning the post manually, fumbling with line levels to check if its straight and at the right depth.

Normally we will have four dedicated trellis teams working throughout the year to get all the sites completed. Unfortunately, we can still be trellising in the wet autumn and early winter months. This can be quite destructive to the vineyard floor when using tractors on wet newly cultivated ground. In severe cases this has led to equipment becoming stuck in rows, or delayed progress as the ground has been too wet to work on. With the tracked vehicle, the weight is distributed evenly across
the surface area of the vehicle and is far less destructive on wet ground, allowing us to work more productively in the winter months.

We have only noticed one disadvantage with this piece of equipment and that is its top speed is about 6mph. This is not a problem in the rows, but can take a bit of time in the mornings and evenings when driving the machine back and forth from its secure storage on site to the vineyard itself. It’s a small price to pay for increased accuracy, elimination of tasks, and less destruction to the vineyard floor. New technology is always exciting but it is important to note that some of our existing trellising teams have been with us for hundreds of vineyard installations; their skill and attention to detail is second to none in the industry. These teams will
always play a part in our trellising structure and sometimes it requires the ingenuity of a human and his spirit level to get it perfect.

Published in Vineyard Magazine – August 2020

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