This time, let's focus on one specific question.
From the 2017 exam:
Labour supply for vineyard work is decreasing in many parts of the world. If this trend continues, how will this affect viticulture, and how can vineyard managers around the world best prepare for, and handle, a shortage of workers?
Excited to hear everyone's thoughts!
Kelli, Sabrina Lueck, Sarah Bray
I think it's important here to avoid discussing mechanization as if it's a single technique, to leave room for a more meaningful discussion about its role in viticulture in an environment with declining labor availability. Not all mechanization is bad or results in lower quality. A shortage in labor forces companies to prioritize which vineyard operations are essential to do by hand and which are better done by machine. For example, pruning will be very difficult to mechanize well, whereas leafing/canopy thinning/suckering by machine is more successful. Mechanical harvesters have improved a lot and are successful in some circumstances. Most vineyards already use mechanization for hedging, topping, management of the vineyard floor, and spraying. Labor shortages are forcing equipment manufacturers to up their game, and a result, there will be better equipment. I'd guess that in the future equipment will be better adapted to a variety of vineyard setups.
I like that Kim mentioned re-evaluating certain vineyard practices. Some are more vital for quality than others, and with limited labor, people are forced to be more strategic and identify which practices are actually improving quality or vineyard health, and which are not. In the best circumstances, this forces people to be better farmers.
I think it's also worth pointing out that in many cases labor shortages don't imply that particular vineyard operations won't happen, but rather, they may not happen quickly, and timing can be important. Harvest is a clear example of this, but other operations like leafing, spraying, green drop, mowing are also time sensitive. In some cases, the ability to act quickly through mechanization could actually be an improvement (a good example of this is spraying).
For background, the busy season in the vineyard is often from budbreak through veraison. Pruning and harvest still require a lot of labor, but they are simpler since everyone is focused on a single task. I worked for Silverado Farming Company in Napa and our staff doubled from March through July.