Mechanical grape pruner aims to cut costs and grow jobs
April 08, 1996
Prosser, Wash. –
When Roger Dellinger bought an overgrown concord grape vineyard in Prosser, he began looking for a better way to cut back excess growth so laborers could reach the grape buds more easily to prune them by hand. Hand pruning has been the standard for centuries, but Dellinger has developed a unique mechanical pruner that can save hours of labor and a lot of money.
When not working in his vineyard, Dellinger is a logistics manager for Battelle, a research and development firm that manages the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. Some of the laboratory's technological know-how may have rubbed off on Dellinger, who invented his pruner, called the Vinemaster, with features such as a quilled drum to pull lateral branches away from the plant and two sets of circular cutters that remove excess buds with a very clean cut -- just like hand pruning.
Dellinger estimates that he will save about 80 percent of pruning costs or $130 per acre using the Vinemaster in his vineyard and expects that other growers could achieve significant savings as well. In addition, the Vinemaster can prune an acre of grapevines at least twice as fast as a hand pruner. The Vinemaster can be custom-mounted to most farm tractors. Dellinger has applied for a patent on his machine.
"Some growers believe that hand pruning produces superior grapes, but labor costs and associated paperwork are making more and more vineyard owners take a look at mechanical pruning," says Dellinger. "I think they're finding that mechanical pruning produces grapes that are just as competitive in quality as hand pruning methods."
A study being conducted by the Washington State University Agricultural Station in Prosser is producing the same results. Eight years into a 10-year study, it appears that mechanical pruning is as effective as hand pruning without lowering yields.
The university's marketing class also conducted a market study for Dellinger's company, Valley Vine Machine Company, in which 78 percent of growers responding to a survey indicated a need for a mechanical pruner.
The study was produced with grant money provided by Dellinger's employer, Pacific Northwest, as part of its entrepreneurial program. Pacific Northwest, like other DOE facilities at the Hanford Site near Richland, has had large-scale lay-offs recently and is committed to helping diversify the local economy by supporting employees who want to start their own businesses. Employees are granted leaves of absence, continuation of insurance benefits, access to patented laboratory technology and technical assistance.
The Vinemaster prototype was built with products and services purchased from local industrial companies. Dellinger hopes to create a local manufacturing base for his product, which would offer further employment opportunities.
Dellinger is taking orders for his Vinemaster for the 1996-1997 pruning season and intends to develop a mechanical pruner for wine grapes as well. If he has his way, hand pruned grapes could go the way of manually harvested potatoes and cows milked by hand.
For sales or other information, contact Valley Vine Machine Company at (509) 786-6711.
Tags: Operations, Facilities