Report Synopsis

Managing Soil Structure in Established Vineyards

Andrew Clarke

The Australian wine industry provides the fifth largest export by value and is produced in a wide variety of regions, climates and geological areas. The soils these vines grow in are old and fragile in nature and are readily degraded when managed utilising traditional European practices. The best time to conduct remedial work on vineyard soil is prior to trellis installation and planting, as the permanent structures and narrow row spacing commonly used prevent the use of large scale earthmoving equipment for deep ripping. Novel and long-term approaches are required to create sustainable systems.

These technical approaches include:

  • Minimal topsoil disturbance through tillage.
  • Remediation and maintenance of soil chemistry and cation balance.
  • Diverse perennial vineyard floor vegetation.
  • Utilisation of mulch and compost under the vines.

More sociological approaches are also needed to gain uptake of management change, which include:

  • Dissemination of practical learning through discussion groups and mentor programs.
  • Creating champions for change, sharing best practice and the risks involved with change.

The current fiscal conditions of the wine industry do not promote large amounts of investment back into the vineyard. Many gains can however be made through better management decisions with minimal investment. The gains are small and incremental, and difficult to see from season to season.

It is critical that farmers continue to try new techniques to continually improve and understand that not everything trialled will be successful. There is no reason why growers as custodians of the land should not be sharing success and being brave enough to share failings to drive the industry towards a sustainable land use approach. Best practice guidelines are more effectively learnt in practice in the field rather than in the text book, so demonstrations, field walks, and discussion groups or mentor programs are a great way of sharing this knowledge. This is not just applicable to soil management practices but all aspects of the industry, from production, to processing to marketing.

Vineyards take time to develop and mature before the best quality grapes can be produced, so long-term thinking needs to be employed to maintain the assets. The goal should be to have healthy, environmentally and financially sustainable vineyards for generations to come. As an industry, it is vital that growers are as open about failings as successes, in order to achieve this.

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