Designing for Viticulture at FMR Group

June 2016

FMR Group engineers have developed technology that reduces spray consumption and drift

The Clifford family of FMR Group of Blenheim developed and commercialised the R-Series (R for recycling) of vineyard sprayers with technology that cuts spray drift and reduces chemical use by about 30%. The first models were launched in 2010, won a Marlborough Environment Awards supreme prize the next year and are now sold around New Zealand and in Australia.

The R-Series has a shrouding system to eliminate drift and recapture unused spray. They come in two forms: the original 2-row trailed implement based on tunnel sprayer configuration and a 3-row harvester-mounted machine, released in 2015. The FMR R-Series is now the leading vineyard spraying technology and is being extended into other horticultural crops.

The R-Series was developed by FMR Group engineers to provide a step-up in chemical use efficiency and related time and environmental savings.

Managing director Chris Clifford says “Addressing waste must be a clear objective for the viticulture industry. Whether waste of spray chemical to airborne or soil borne drift, waste of time through tank refilling, waste of fuel from excessive tractor hours or wasted spray opportunity through being forced to stop for wind, the FMR R-Series addresses all these areas.”

The 2-row sprayers are built on the familiar air-blast sprayer profile run off tractor hydraulics with galvanised chassis and booms. The booms have hydraulic arms and individual break-aways. Each fan is individually adjustable on the boom arms to suit specific canopy and row width. The nozzles have roll-over bodies to allow for fast application rate changes (two nozzles at each junction). The trailed unit is powered by hydraulics, not towing tractor PTO.

The Bravo controller constantly monitors ground speed, system pressure and liquid flow to deliver the pre-set application rate and also records job data and the recycling rate achieved.

Any spray that doesn’t deposit on foliage is filtered, recycled back into the tank and reused. At the start of the season this means savings of up to 90%. As foliage density increases, recovery rates diminish, but an average of 30-40% chemical savings across the season is expected. It comes in three sizes – 1500lt capacity, 2300 and 3000 litre. The smallest model covers 1.6m to 3m row spacing and the two bigger models 2m to 3.6m. They have composite tanks for durability, easy-clean and improved hygiene. A 200lt fresh water tank is built in for flushing and hand washing.

The harvester model can be mounted on a harvester tractor unit or ‘tool carrier’. This machine has been carefully designed to allow operators to work in terraced or undulating vineyards and in a wide variety of different row spacings, with the ability to quickly and easily adjust the spraying units hydraulically on the go using the standard control system of the tractor unit.

With a main tank capacity of 2400lt plus fresh water for flushing and hand washing, the machine is capable of spraying for long periods between refills which, together with the ability to spray three complete rows at once, provides considerable efficiency.

A quick-detach system allows the entire spray unit to be mounted and dismounted in 15 minutes without specialist tools. It has hydraulic height adjustment on each of the three row units and hydraulic width control expanding the reach of the unit from 1.8m to 3m. It then folds into a compact form no wider than the harvester for road travel. The tank has 2400lt capacity and a separate fresh water tank for cleaning and hand washing.

The first FMR R-Series sprayer won the supreme and innovation award in the 2011 Marlborough District Council environment awards. Judges praised the SprayPro R-Series as being the complete package.   “It has commercial, environmental and social benefits as well as exporting opportunities.”

The FMR R-Series also won the Wine Industry Suppliers Australia environment and sustainability award in 2014. “FMR has identified a set of clear market needs around minimising spray losses and optimising efficiency and effectiveness of spray delivery and coverage. Not only does the R-Series sprayer provide improved outcomes for people, planet and profit, but it also helps improve public perceptions of the wine industry and its reputation in relation to chemical spray drift. The sprayer is suited to Australian conditions and is intrinsically safer for growers, operators, the public and most importantly the environment,” judges commented.

Plant and Food Research officers at Motueka and Blenheim carried out independent testing of the R-Series and reported in 2012. The aim was to verify the benefits of recycling the spray solution. They tested the effectiveness of botrytis prevention and found that recycling of the spray solution did not reduce botryticide efficacy. The recycling process did not concentrate or reduce the active ingredients over time. Spray coverage was adequate to excellent and the recycling increased the area covered by a conventional air-shear sprayer.

FMR Group also had the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research produce a spraying costs and benefits report on the R-Series. The benefits are reducing chemical use to provide a reduction in vineyard chemical costs and a reduction in chemicals applied to the land; reduction in spray drift to near zero; the ability to be used in sensitive areas in a wide range of conditions; moving towards industry sustainability objectives, and improved perception of the wine industry by the general public.

The main cost was the increased cost of an R-Series sprayer relative to other sprayers.

The results are sensitive to property size and the volume of chemicals being used. As the cost of chemicals rises, and/or the vineyards gets larger, the benefits increase.

Over a wide range of conditions, seasons and vineyards the reported savings in chemical fall in the 25 to 30% range and there are also productivity benefits. On the costs side, an R-Series sprayer was about 50% more expensive than a conventional sprayer. All the NZIER findings are available from FMR Group.