Marlborough contracting company forgoes tractors for horse power video

FAIRFAX NZ

Horse Power Contracting is the only vineyard service in New Zealand to use horses, instead of tractors, to spray grape vines.

A Marlborough couple is saying 'neigh' to tractors and banking on horse power to deliver spraying services to vineyards around the region.

Since the industrial revolution, the equine beasts have fallen out of favour with farmers and other agricultural types, but they could be making a comeback.

Stephen and Melisa Rae started their contracting company Horse Power Contracting after buying two clydesdales from Marlborough wine company Seresin Estate.

Horse Power Contracting co-owners Melisa Rae and Stephen Rae with their 14-year-old clydesdale Gracie spraying a Fromm ...
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Horse Power Contracting co-owners Melisa Rae and Stephen Rae with their 14-year-old clydesdale Gracie spraying a Fromm Winery vineyard, in Marlborough.

The new company charges the same hourly rates as those with tractors, their horses Gracie, 14, and Bill, 10, go roughly the same speed, about 5kmh, and they don't use fossil fuels.

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Plus, wine companies that hire them get the added benefit of having their grass mowed, as one of the horses grazes while the other gets hitched to a custom-made spray unit.

Melisa Rae worked with Gracie and Bill for four years at Seresin, so when the company went to sell them she and her husband grasped the opportunity.

"I've worked with them for so many years so I didn't want to part with them, I love this work and there's no-one else in New Zealand doing it," Melisa Rae said.

The big clydesdales, which weigh around 800 kilograms and stand 1.7 metres tall, are well-trained and respond to commands directing them down narrow vineyard rows.

The harness connecting them to the spray buggy was made by Amish craftsmen in the United States, and the pump was pressurised by a chain attached to the back axle.

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"It's predominantly organic sprays, we don't want to be exclusively organic, but there's certain sprays, herbicides and pesticides, that we don't want to touch," Stephen Rae said.

The health of the horses was one of the reasons they wanted to steer away from certain chemicals, plus Melisa Rae said she did not believe or support the style of winemaking that relied on them.

Using horses instead of tractors fitted the ethos of organic wine producers and played well in terms of marketing as people were interested in watching them work, Stephen Rae said.

"Every time someone turns on an engine it effectively contributes to climate change, but with these we're more than carbon neutral, we're carbon positive," he said.

Melisa Rae said the other difference between tractors and her horses was the connection she felt with the animals, as well as the lack of engine noise.

"I don't know if the guys driving tractors develop the same sense of attachment I do," she said.

The company had secured a contract with one Marlborough wine company, Fromm Winery, but they thought demand would increase as other companies became aware of their service.

As well as vineyard spraying, they also planned to start offering a wine tour using a horse-drawn wagon, Stephen Rae said.

Fromm Winery general manager William Hoare said the company was looking to start producing natural wine, made without sulphur, so the use of horses to do their spraying made sense.

 - The Marlborough Express

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