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Viticulture, a key sector for agricultural mechanics

As part of the programme developed for EIMA International, the Club of Bologna dedicated a meeting to the development of viticulture technologies. Precision systems, from treatments to harvesting, make it possible to make vineyard cultivation increasingly productive and valuable, supporting a sector that is highly valuable not only economically but also in terms of landscape and culture

by Marco Grella
February 2022 | Back

Nowadays, the agriculture equation must concurrently balance crop profitability and human and environmental safety. Any improvement to viticulture mechanization can potentially contribute to sustainability reducing environmental and human contamination risk, raise food quality and safety standard, enhancing at the same time productivity and profitability of vineyards. The adoption of innovative precision viticulture technologies, at farm level, will be even more strategic to comply with the European Union Green Deal that within the Farm to Fork Strategy strives to: Reduce the pesticide inputs of 50%; Reduce nutrient losses of 50%, concurrently reducing fertilizers inputs of 20%; Increase of 25% the organically farmed land by 2030.

The Club of Bologna (CoB), during the 30° CoB meeting held in Bologna last October during the EIMA International, draw the focus on specific mechanizations for viticulture discussing in a dedicated session the current situation of mechanization in the viticulture sector and its perspectives for the future with particular attention to the sustainability of viticulture.


Viticulture in the world: present situation and perspectives

During the bolognese conference Osvaldo Failla, Professor of Arboriculture and Fruit Tree Growing at University of Milan (Italy) introduced the topic providing an overview about the current situation and perspectives of viticulture in the world (Figure 1).

The trend of vineyard cropped surfaces and yield in Europe were driven from 1960’s to the EU (at the time EEC winegrowing policies. From 2000’s there was an abrupt shift where the grapes supply was determined directly from the market while the attention of policymaker was mainly oriented to the sustainability of grape production.

Even if it is not strategic for human feeding viticulture plays a fundamental role worldwide. Indeed, it produce incomes, landscape, rural developments and finally culture and cultural identity. So, one on the main aspect of viticulture sustainability is the link of products, like wine or table grapes, to the territory. One of European challenge is to maintain the so called “heroic viticulture” in mountain and hill limiting the abandoning phenomenon of those areas (Figure 2) and concurrently avoiding soil destroying related to the to the land shaping practices. Land shaping allowed the mechanization of vineyards and then the productivity and economic sustainability of viticulture for those territories.

Also, the conservation of oeno-diversity through the conservation of varieties heritage play a key-role for the sustainability of viticulture. To date few hundred varieties among 6,000 available are grown for grape production with 33 varieties accounting for 50% of total world vineyard acreage. It derives that the wines produced throughout world countries are very similar losing the plus related to the heritage of eno-diversity. Concurrently, a general winemaker trend to standardize the wine taste to be appreciated by international market is noticeable. These practices lead to the impoverishment, simplification, trivialization, and sensory laziness of the world of wines.

Concerning environmental sustainability, the reduction of pesticides use is strategic. Apart the use of innovative spray application technologies used for crop protection, in this direction “resistant hybrids” represent a resource for the future years. They can resist to the main fungal diseases with high potential for wine quality production requiring few (two or three) spray applications per year.

As last, the adoption of best management practices and the selection of proper “viticultural models” according to the different growing zones, will be the basis for the economic and environmental sustainability of viticulture across the world.


Advanced technologies for precise viticulture.

The technical aspects of viticulture were treated, during the meeting of the Club of Bologna, by Emilio Gil, Professor of Department of Agri-Food Engineering and Biotechnology (Polytechnic University of Catalunya – Spain) reports about the most advanced technologies for precise viticulture.

The vineyard parcels with greatest opportunities for Precision Viticulture (PV) are those which reveal a high degree of vigour or yield variation. A high degree of variation – explained Emilio Gil – will mean higher Variable Rate Application (VRA) of inputs and, therefore, greater economic and environmental benefit in comparison with uniform management. Also, the canopy morphology variability according to the growth stage, canopy density and shape require different management representing a huge opportunity for PV.

Concerning PV the spray application is one of the most important issues because give the possibility to practically reduce chemical inputs. In this respect, the data acquisition of canopies parameters/characteristics is a key action. A precise, effective, and georeferenced canopy characterization allows the implementation of VRA spray techniques in vineyard, whereby pesticides application rates are modified according to crop characteristics. Based on the information acquired using sensors (e.g. ultrasonic, LIDAR, multispectral camera, etc.) a prescription map describing the density of vineyard canopies within the parcel can be obtained and used to define different level for the spray volume rate to be applied accordingly. One of the most advanced canopy scouting is represented by multispectral camera installed on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), providing NDVI vegetation index successively elaborated to obtain a vineyard vigor map (Figure 3). More challenging, recent experience investigate the possibility to perform pesticide VRA according to canopy disease incidence within the vineyard plot ( Furthermore, recently was also investigated the possibility to obtain useful information about vineyard canopy characteristics using satellite images that are freely available, and constant updated. Results indicate that useful information can be obtained for VRA purposes in an effective-cost way.

The future of PV will involve robotics in detecting clusters, counting them, and allowing a precise and early forecasting of yield, but also pruning as it is a very thorny field operation from which depend the yield and quality of grapes. The new frontier will be the cooperation between human and robots developing a novel collaborative human-robot paradigm in the industry of grape production (Figure 4).

Grapes mechanical harvesting

Finally, Eng. Thierry Le Briquer., Grape, Olive and Coffee product Line Director for CNH Industrial, provides a focus on grapes mechanical harvesting.

The environmental changes drive the customer trends and requests, so innovative technologies are needed to support this global trend. The specialty crops surface is relatively small if compared to the wheat cropped surface, but specialty fruits are five time higher profitable than the wheat. On the other side the mechanization level in specialty fruit crops is very low as there are still a lot of manual operation that can be replaced by new technologies able to increase productivity and crop profitability.

Focusing on vineyard, four main activities where mechanization play a fundamental role for the economic sustainability of production can be identified, namely i) canopy management, ii) soil management, iii) crop protection and iv) harvesting. Concerning the harvesting, New Holland is involved from the last 45 years in development and improvement of mechanical grape harvester (Figure 5). To date the quality of grape harvested mechanically is very similar to those harvested manually on large scale. So, the new development of mechanical grape picking is focused on the productivity, with final aims to harvest faster and at the optimum moment of grape ripening corresponding to just 48 hours. In this respect, one of the future challenges of New Holland is exploit the various passages in the field during farming activities to collect and store information finalized to have an exact figure of evolution of wine stock along the year. As practical example, New Holland Oenocontrol grape harvester based on these information will be able to select, harvest and store in different hoppers the grapes of different qualities harvested within the same vineyard plots, providing a direct relationship between vineyard characteristics/physiology and food quality. To adequately valorize wine produced from different grapes quality the full traceability of bottles, from vineyards to the consumer tables, will be even much more important. So, New Holland within an internal project called viticulture 4.0 is developing a cloud in which each service provider involved in the chain production of wine along the whole process collect meaningful data and share these data. Finally crossing the data, the full traceability/history of each bottle will be available and can be consulted by end-consumers through QR code technology placed on the bottle label (Figure 6).

Viticulture is fundamental sector at international level. Sustainability in viticulture will be more and more strategic in the future – this is the synthesis at the end of the meeting – and mechanization can and must help producers to achieve a sustainable viticulture. Sustainability in viticulture has to take into account both the environmental and the cultural aspects. Various advanced technologies for precision viticulture, such as vineyard mapping for variable rate application/picking purposes and robotics able to improve sustainability, reducing environmental pollution and increasing yield at the same time, are to date available. However, the adoption of these technologies is still low by farmers. The adoption and the right use of new advanced technology in the every-day farm activities represent the main strategy to comply with EU policy about the reduction of chemical inputs in agriculture. Actions are needed to effectively increase the adoption of new technologies by farmers.


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