The effects of alternative herbicide free cover cropping systems on soil health, vine performance, berry quality and vineyard biodiversity in a climate change scenario in Switzerland

There is an urgent need in viticulture to adopt alternative herbicide-free soil management strategies to mitigate climate change, increase biodiversity, reduce plant protection products and improve soil quality while minimizing detrimental effects on grapevine’s stress tolerance and fruit quality. To propose sustainable solutions, adapted to different pedoclimatic conditions in Switzerland, we developed a multidisciplinary 4-year project, started in 2020. Objectives of the project are to a) evaluate the impact of green covers (spontaneous flora, winter cover crop and permanent ground cover) on environmental and agronomic parameters and b) develop subsequently innovative strategies for different viticultural contexts of Switzerland. The project is divided into 3 phases: 1) diagnosis, 2) on-farm and 3) on-station experiments. Phase 1) consisted in an assessment of 30 commercial vineyards all over Switzerland, where growers already use different herbicide-free soil management strategies. The most promising practices identified in this exploratory phase will be replicated in commercial vineyards across Switzerland (“on-farm”) as well as in a classical randomized block design in an experimental plot (“on-station”). For phase 1), measurements consisted in evaluation of soil status (compaction, structure, roots development), soil microbial diversity (metagenomics), plant diversity and biomass, vine physiology (water stress, vigor, leaf nitrogen) and berry quality (acidity, sugar, available nitrogen). Interestingly, the permanent ground cover resulted in a higher Shannon index thus a higher biodiversity as compared to the other itineraries. The winter cover crop increased vine nitrogen and vigor while deteriorating soil quality, leaving the soil more exposed and compacted likely due to more frequent tillage. The spontaneous flora led to higher berry sugar accumulation, less nitrogen and higher malic acid concentration putatively due to a higher water retention of the flora in a particularly wet vintage. Phases 2) and 3) are required to confirm those tendencies, over the 3 next vintages  and different climatic conditions.

Authors: Serena Fantasia1, Matteo Mota1, Frédéric Lamy1, David Marchand2, Robin Sonnard2, Vivian Zufferey3, Nicolas Delabays4, Thierry Heger1 and Markus Rienth1

1Changins, Institute of Viticulture and Œnology, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland, Nyon, Switzerland
2FIBL, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Lausanne, Switzerland
3Agroscope, Swiss Agricultural Research Institute, Nyon, Switzerland
4hepia, Earth-Nature-Environment Institute, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland, Jussy, Switzerland


Keywords: biodiversity, cover crops, soil quality, sustainable viticulture, weed management

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