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I was fortunate to be invited by Felco Africa to judge the pruning contests on three farms from Friday to today. The contests were hosted by Distell and sponsored by Felco. The purpose of the in-house contests is to judge the skills and speed of the pruners, but also to give constructive feedback to the pruners and management so they can improve their skills.

Aspects that we judged:

  • Spacing of bearers for sunlight penetration
  • Number of buds per bearer
  • Height of cut above bearer bud
  • Height of cut on 2 year old wood
  • Distinction between  thick and thin canes / Thickness of cane at place of cut
  • Allowance for renewal
  • Efficiency of Cazenave bearers
  • Closing of gaps
  • Smoothness of cut on wood older than 2 years
  • Pruning speed

A point is deducted for each mistake. The points are out of 100. The top three pruners receives a Felco beanie/cap, a medal and a trophy – and they will compete in the finals on the 28th of June.

The past two days of pruning evaluation has showed that the quality of the vineyard pruner has definitely improved over the past couple of years and a lot of focus should continue to be on vineyard worker training.

But the focus with the training should not be on a level where we just show the worker how to cut vines. Pruning is much more than that. Pruning is similar to sculpting – especially when pruning older vineyards. Each vine deserves individual attention, and once the pruner understands and implements this, productivity rises and so would profits. Once a pruner understands why he or she is pruning, the input changes and so the results do too.

That is also the aim with these small contests. After the judging results have been announced, the critical error points are discussed with the group and the managers. This helps with the thought process of the pruner when returning to his/her job and the subsequent better pruning results.

A big shout out to Felco for being so closely involved in farm worker training and upliftment, and also to Distell for driving these contests on their various farms for the last couple of years.

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