Improving vineyard soil health through groundcover management

Vineyard at NIAB East Malling

The UK wine industry has expanded dramatically in recent years, with the total hectarage of vineyards increasing by 70% from 2015-2020 and several wines achieving international acclaim. However, the industry struggles with inconsistent yields and juice quality which may in part be attributed to poor soil health.

Soil health is defined as its ability to support crop production and provide wider ecosystem services. Optimised ground management practices, such as cover cropping, can promote soil health as well as aiding progress towards sustainability and net zero goals, but currently there are no scientifically-derived guidelines to inform UK vineyard managers' decisions and the impacts on vine performance are not known. Furthermore, commercial uptake of cover cropping is currently limited due to concerns over associated risks such as higher disease pressure, competition for nutrients and water, and additional maintenance work.

This project aims to quantify the impact of cover crops and non-chemical weeding strategies on soil health and vine performance in UK vineyards. Demonstration sites have been established at Gusbourne and Chapel Down vineyards in Kent and at NIAB East Malling’s R&D Vineyard. Project outputs will include evidence-based recommendations for growers on the best ground management approaches to suit UK vineyards.

Project title

Increasing productivity and sustainability in UK viticulture: investigating the potential of groundcover management practices on soil health, yields and juice quality, and emissions.

Partners

Gusbourne
Chapel Down (English Wines PLC)
T Denne & Sons
National Resources Institute (University of Greenwich)
Vinescapes

Funders

Defra via Innovate UK

Project duration

May 2022-April 2024

Project outputs

  • Bespoke cover crop mixes and weeding strategies for UK vineyards
  • Demonstration sites showing how cover crops and mechanical weeding strategies can optimise grape yields and juice quality
  • Guidelines on how to improve vineyard soil health and carbon sequestration
  • Knowledge of how cover crops affect the soil microbiome and how weeding strategies affect soil stability
  • Soil water and nutrient management strategies to improve resource use efficiency in cover crop vineyards.