If your vineyard management practice relies on the control of weeds leaving bare soil under vines, this University of Adelaide study might change your mind. Evidence points to under-vine cover crops as an excellent solution for soil health, vine yield, crop quality and financial returns.
For vineyard managers, the area under vines requires careful management to ensure weeds are controlled. It is also this zone that has the greatest concentration of vine roots. Any management practice can have a direct impact on the yield and quality of the crop, which in turn impacts profitability.
It has been common practice in the past for vineyard managers to keep the area under the vines bare of weeds. Left to run rampant, weeds can grow into the vine canopy and can also take up soil moisture and nutrients that should be available to vines. However, there is a growing understanding that managing weeds by keeping the soil bare through cultivation or use of herbicides can have poor outcomes for the soil, as well as for the vines and the crop.
A University of Adelaide research project led by Chris Penfold [i] has seen excellent results from planting cover crops under vines. An article published on the Wine Australia website [ii] in July 2018 provided insights into the results. At three of the four sites analysed, under-vine planting with a mix of medic and Valley Seeds Safeguard annual ryegrass generated ‘long-run increases in gross margins of $1600 to $1700/ha annually above the $5000/ha of the herbicide control treatment’.
A key result of the study was that ‘current practices of maintaining a bare under-vine zone can now be questioned with some authority’. [iii]
The study showed that ideal varieties for under-vine planting demonstrate strong growth over winter and early spring, and then reduce their growth or die off in late spring, so that they are not competing with the vine for moisture.
The work to understand the nuances of how cover crops can be used to improve vineyard productivity continues and we look forward to seeing more information come out of this invaluable research.
Talk to your distributor or a Valley Seeds Regional Sales Manager about suitable varieties for cover crops in your vineyard.
Our proven inter row Blockout blends containing Safeguard and custom options are specifically designed as cover crops for vineyards and orchards. Improve soil structure, nutrient and moisture retention; minimise erosion and compaction; increase levels of organic matter in the soil.
[i] Chris Penfold researcher profile on the University of Adelaide website
[ii] Under-vine cover crops show their value on the Wine Australia website
[iii] The development of a low-input under-vine floor management system which improves profitability without compromising yield or quality on the Wine Australia website.