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Weed Control Technologies Showcased During Napa Valley Viticultural Fair

by Bill Pregler
November 16, 2006
The 2006 Napa Valley Viticultural Fair held this week at the County Fairgrounds drew record attendance. It featured seminars on vineyard pests and diseases, a vine mealy bug detection dog demonstration, and it featured one hundred and forty-four exhibitors. Showcasing equipment and supplies specifically for the vineyard, attendees were able to see some of the latest technologies available, from mechanical harvesters, to state-of-the-art irrigation management, and the use of weather stations.

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Napa Vit Fair features 144 exhibitors
Two demonstrations of interest to the environmentally conscious vineyard featured two manufacturers who managed weed and pest control through the use of propane generated heat, with applications of either flame or steam. In response to the growing awareness of sustainable farming practices, these two systems are an alternative to chemical application and mechanical cultivation. They are both recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program.

The basis of the technology is the instantaneous application of heat directly on the weed, raising the temperature inside the plant. The moisture in the plant cells is vaporized, rupturing them and therefore destroying their photosynthesis capability. Without the ability to produce food, the weed dies back to the root, normally within three days.

The Australian Batchen Stinger was first introduced in the United States at the 2005 World Ag Expo. It is a towable trailer with forty-six gallons of propane, thirty-five gallons of water, and produces super-heated steam up to 840 degrees. Pulled through the vineyard at three M.P.H. the unit is capable of three hours of running time before the water needs to be refreshed, seven hours before the propane is exhausted. Depending on vineyard conditions, the Stinger will cover 2 to 2 ½ acres per hour. An on-board steam generator induces steam into an adjustable, spring-loaded canopy that is pulled along the base of the vines. It retains the heat, increases the thermal transfer and reduces the effects of ambient air from the vineyard.

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Stinger  demonstration
The totally self-contained system features twelve-volt electronics, a manual over ride, temperature control, and an automatic shutdown in the event of low water, rollover or over-temp. The steam generator returns to a "lowfire" mode if the unit remains stationary for more than five seconds.

The Red Dragon from Flame Engineering, Inc. uses the same theory of temperature application but with the use of an open flame. While the application is also at the base of the vines for weeds, flaming equipment can be used for leaf removal in the vine canopy. To determine the effectiveness of either system, all one does is pinch a leaf. A dark thumbprint left behind is the indication the intense heat has been applied and the leaf or weed will die.

Dragon's GP-750 was featured at the Napa Vitfair, perfect for the smaller vineyard of forty acres or less, particularly if there is tight row spacing. It has a lightweight, compact construction that can be easily pulled behind an ATV, and will consume similar amounts of power and water as the Stinger. Larger units are available to handle the bigger vineyards, including complete kits that accommodate 2, 4, 6 and 8 row configurations.

All Red Dragon systems feature one or two booms, adjustable for both height and width, and feature a spring-loaded "break-away" feature to prevent damage to vines or trellising. The arms immediately snap back into position after passing the obstruction.

The units come complete with an easily mounted operator control box, allowing for complete shutdown and control for both booms. By allowing the operator this flexibility, one or both sides can be used depending on the application. Aside from weed and insect control at the vine base, the GP-750 can be applied to roadsides, irrigation ditches, fence lines or any hard-to-mow areas.

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