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UTV Instead of Tractor?

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FutureFarm

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I'm looking at the possibility of converting some of my Central Illinois corn/soybean farm to grapes. I have large row crop tractors, but nothing that would easily fit down rows of grapes, especially in the summer. I also have a Kubota RTV for scouting fields. I'm fairly certain at 9 foot row spacing, I could get it down the rows without damaging anything.
If I were to put in 4 or so acres of vines, can I get away without a small tractor? From what I've been reading the machine heavy tasks at a small scale operation are mowing, spraying, and moving things/people around. I've already built a sprayer system to spray preemergent on soybeans, so I think I could rig up vertical booms, a pump, and a small engine for spraying into the canopy. If that fails, I've seen self-powered air blast units that are designed to fit on UTVs. Since the vines will likely be near the house, I figure I'd just mow the middles with the Zero-Turn Mower. I can do the ground work and post hole digging with my field tractors as the vineyard grows, until the trellis goes in.
Thoughts? What am I missing?
Also, taking advice/suggestions about my vertical boom sprayer idea. When do you need an air blast?
 

shrewsbury

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I have a SCT and love it. Fits between my 8 foot spaced rows with plenty of room, I can mow with it, post hole dig, and move dirt, they also make plenty of sprayers to work with it.
 

FutureFarm

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How much post hole digging and dirt moving have you done since the trellises went up? I don't have a small tractor now and am wondering if they're a necessity or if I can get by with what I already own from growing corn/soybeans. What SCT do you have?
 

shrewsbury

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I have put in another 155 posts, planted 60 vines, and pulled about 1000 foot of wire. I have move around (guessing) 40 cubic yards of dirt. I have a 5 foot mower that attaches for mowing between rows, takes to swipes.
 

balatonwine

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From what I've been reading the machine heavy tasks at a small scale operation are mowing, spraying, and moving things/people around.
And tilling/cultivation.

Grapes like to be tilled, especially in their rows. Corn and soybean are nice no-till crops. Grapes -- not so much. Some people do just spray or mow in the rows because it is easier, but the vines do better in many areas, and in many ways and for many reasons when tilled. Thus, many quality grape growers do so when appropriate.

In row tillers come in a variety of forms. But most of those do require either hydraulics (e.g. Weed Badger) or a vehicle with a bit of torque to pull them (e.g. French plow).

I suggest you contact the U. Illinois Agricultural Extension for what are the suggested weed and in row soil management plans for your area and variety you wish to grow.
 
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shrewsbury

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I have a tiller that hooks to my 3 point on my SCT and tilling can be done with 2 passes, just like mowing. I never spray between the rows.
 

FutureFarm

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Thanks for the info! When we lived in Ohio, almost all of the vineyards had grass or other cover crops in the middles and under the vines. The grower I talked to said that the other plants were almost a necessity to reduce vine vigor. The site I'm considering will likely produce very vigorous vines. It's a south facing hill that has produced 200+ bushel/acre corn for the past 10 years or so. Due to the nature of the hill, should I be worried about erosion/runoff.
 

balatonwine

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The grower I talked to said that the other plants were almost a necessity to reduce vine vigor.
Ideally, you control vigor mostly by your planting distances, pruning method, and canopy management. Vigor management by in row weeds is a late season issue. Very different. See the links I provided above why using under row full season weeds is not necessarily a good idea.

Beside that: Tilled rows have advantages when used correctly. Untiled may result in reduction in productivity (see the links I provided). But, again, I suggest you consult your local University Extension. Local factors mater regarding what best agricultural process to use. What one grower says is just a singular opinion, and that opinion is just that -- an opinion -- and any one opinion may be sub-optimal for ideal productivity on your own land (think about terroir). And I assume you want the best productivity (i.e profit).
 
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jgmillr1

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I've been using out JD 3203 compact utility tractor for the vineyard. It is a 32HP 3-cylinder diesel and provides up to 25HP to the PTO. I would say that this is the smallest tractor that can do the job and you should at least look at something this big or bigger. JD offers some narrow-row tractors that are 50HP and more. About the only thing that my little tractor does not do is have a rear hydraulic option. This would be important for certain sprayers or implements (weed badger).

The main tractor uses in the vineyard are post auguring, net installation/removal, moving bins of grapes and spraying. I mow with a zero turn finish mower.
 

CTDrew

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It might not be in your budget, but look into a used Landini if you can find one. A lot of old ones here in CT from shade tobacco farming have found new homes at commercial vineyards. Small and narrow with lots of horse power and you might be able to make other use of it around the farm.
 

BigH

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This is a decision you can defer for 2 seasons or more as long as you can construct the trellis with one of your field tractors. I think you will want a small tractor for netting, harvest, and maybe spraying. Some of the more effect spray equipment may be PTO driven (but I don't know since I have a small operation). Netting is a major PITA, but is absolutely necessary IMO. You will want to be efficient at it.

I have a small backyard vineyard in central Iowa consisting of cold hardy hybrids. It sits on a 5-9% grade. Excess vigor and bull canes were a problem in my second and third growing seasons. I now let grasses and weeds grow within the row at certain times of the season to limit vigor and control erosion. Essentially, I let the weeds grow in the spring to help soak up excess rain. I burn them down once I hit a dry spell in June and try to control them to veraison (gotta be careful not to hit a sucker shoot). At that, point, I let the weeds be so that when I get close to harvest, I will have something that will help mitigate the effect of late season rain. I also prefer to have the rows filled in with growth heading into winter to control erosion.

In season 1, you will want to strictly control weeds to maximize root growth of the new vines. In season 2 and beyond, you will have to decide which problems you can live with, and which ones you can't. Excess vigor and canes with long internode distances were a big problem for me, so I adopted practices to address those.

Other suggestions:

  • If your vineyard slopes to the south, consider east/west running rows to limit erosion. My rows run up and down my slope, and erosion has been an issue for my sandy loam soil. North south rows are more efficient at capturing sun energy, but you will have energy to spare at your location.
  • Figure out what tractor you would likely buy and space your rows to accommodate it. Allow extra spacing if you are planning to use a GDC trellis
  • 4 acres is a lot of mowing. Get a big enough mowing deck so you can limit the number of passes.
  • Do you have anyone to help work the vineyard? 4 acres is quite a lot for one person.
 
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FutureFarm

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The plan is still a few years out. I have some time to do in the Air Force before I can start. The plan is to move back to the family farm and convert a small section to a vineyard to support a 1,000 or so case winery. There's a small city within 10 miles, and only one winery. I think there's an opportunity. Ideally, I'd get a fairly stable office job when I move back based on my current career field (financial management). This would get me health benefits and a reliable income source when the vineyard/winery struggle. My father worked full-time as an engineer and farms 600 acres on the side, so I have a pretty good idea of the time involved. He and my father-in-law will both be retired soon, and would be willing to help. Another idea I've been tossing around to reduce mowing is a small flock of Olde English Babydoll Southdown Sheep. Pretty sure they'll end up costing more in time overall, but the marketing potential may outweigh the cost.
 

BigH

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One more suggestion: don't plant all 4 acres in one shot. Consider planting 1/4 to 1/2 acre the first season, maybe one acre the next, and the final bit in year 3. I like this idea for these reasons

  1. We humans are prone to these things called "mistakes". You can make most of your mistakes on the initial small plot with this approach.
  2. You don't really know what varieties will like your micro climate. The small plot can help figure some of that out
  3. There is a chance you may decide this is too much work, and stop with a small hobby vineyard
  4. Spraying and netting your small plot in year 3 or 4 will tell you whether you need a tractor in the following season
Conventional wisdom on these forums say that 1/2 acre is about the most a single person can handle while still working a fulltime job. My vineyard is 1/5 of an acre, and I concur with that wisdom.

Also, depending on what you know about making wine, try to score some grapes now or in your first season and start nailing down that process. I had my first full crop this past season, and didn't really have the equipment to cope with it all.

Good luck! I am toasting to your good fortune as I write this.
H
 

jgmillr1

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don't plant all 4 acres in one shot
Sound advice. The other nice benefit is that you can buy a smaller initial number of grow tubes and cascade them down each year to your new plantings. Assuming you plan to use grow tubes, that is.
 

shrewsbury

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I think you should only need to till twice, ever, in your vineyard. I till the area for new planting and flatten it out. Then I only till between the rows once more. After I put in my posts and build up the dirt I till between the rows then try to flatten them a bit. The "grass" comes back in a few weeks but my surface is a bit flatter and easier to walk and drive on. The need for some form of cover crop between the rows is for many things, excess water absorption, erosion control, and it looks good. I may one day reseed with some grass seed, but I just manage the grass and weeds that already exist.
 

balatonwine

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I think you should only need to till twice, ever, in your vineyard. I till the area for new planting and flatten it out. Then I only till between the rows once more.
Many of the devices I listed as "tilling" are for in row weed control, not between row (in aisle). Different. In aisle is less. I, personally, only mow in aisle.

The number of passes through the vineyard for weed control in row can certainly exceed twice. But that depends on your local conditions. For example, it rains here all spring and summer. Which are warm and sunny. And so, being well watered with lots of light and warmth, weeds grow fast. In four weeks some can reach the bottom wire. Not to mention defeating the reasons I want to maintain bare earth under the vines. I have to certainly do more than two passes a year.
 
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FutureFarm

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It's been a while, but I'm still interested and continuing my research. Would a sprayer unit like this generate enough pressure to make it into the middle of the canopy?

https://mkrittenhouse.com/us/rittenhouse-sprayers/raspberry-blueberry-vineyard-sprayer

The thought is to grow about 3 tons each of Marechal Foch, Marquette, Cayuga White, and Frontenac Gris. Using the Northern Grape Project's Wilsboro Report's mean yield/vine and range, I guess that about 2.5 acres could grow enough grapes in all but the worst 10% of years. At this level of production is an airblast sprayer required? Do the skid mounted airblast sprayers with a volute like the one at the link below work well enough?

https://www.ameribestsprayers.com/index.php/new-mist-sprayers/4-utility-engine-driven-mist-blowers
 

Dennis Griffith

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We have a couple of compact tractors we use (Kubota B7500 HST series). One has a front loader, so I must be careful when maneuvering between the rows, but both are used for everything we need in the vineyard (tilling/mowing/post holes/spraying).
 

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