Innovating EU vineyards to protect our soil

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Vineyard (Pixabay)

The EU is the world’s leading producer of wine. Like all agriculture sectors, wine producers need to find ways to better protect soil, improve water use and cut emissions. LIFE in the wine regions is helping by funding climate change adaptation and mitigation projects.

Soil compaction and erosion, water management, fertiliser use and emissions – these issues impose themselves on all types of farms across the globe. Soil management is at the heart of these issues and the focus of several LIFE projects. LIFE funding is supporting vineyards to test and implement management methods to help the sector become more sustainable and better adapted to the effects of climate change.

Data for soil health

© LIFE Soil4Wine. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.

Soil4Wine, a LIFE project running in Italy, is currently testing a decision support tool to guide vineyards towards better soil management. Thanks to input from its nine demo farms – wineries where the tool’s solutions are being put into practice – the research team has been able to compile four simple steps for soil management. These include a checklist for wineries to assess the quality of their soil and the potential risks it faces.

Armed with data on the vineyards’ soil makeup, wine growers on the demo farms are able to anticipate which demonstration approach will be successful on their land. The Azienda Monte delle Vigne, for example, lets grass grow permanently between vine rows and mulches on the rows themselves. Grass decreases the vines’ strength, meaning less pruning and winter maintenance.

Reusing pruning

© LIFE Sarmiento. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.

Open burning from pruning is a large source of emissions from the wine industry. According to LIFE Sarmiento, another project that is driving change in the wine sector, burning can generate up to 2.2 tonnes of CO2 per hectare. The LIFE project team has recruited biotech experts to produce enriched organic compost from pruning waste. The compost is being distributed to farm plots and urban gardens in the region of Murcia in Spain.

Help from sheep

© LIFE Vinecos. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.

Further north, in the German region of southern Saxony-Anhalt, LIFE VinEcoS is using demo farms to test its methodologies, from sowing local wild plants between vine rows, encouraging sheep grazing and planting soil cover crops. Sheep grazing cuts out the need for machinery, and less pruning helps the vines themselves to build better disease resistance, thereby reducing pesticide needs. Meanwhile, by planting local wild plants and multifunctional seed mixtures, the vineyards support native animal species and pollinators and protect local biodiversity.

Innovative by-product from winery waste

© Canva

LIFE ZeoWine has turned to a naturally-occurring, microporous mineral called zeolite to develop an innovative product which could improve soil nutrition, microbial and enzyme diversity, and water efficiency. Zeolites have excellent abilities to retain water and organic materials. The product, ZeoWine, combines zeolites with compost from winery waste.

This summer, the ZeoWine project has moved into the experimental phase (read in Italian), applying 30 tonnes of ZeoWine compost per hectare over two vineyards in Tuscany. The results will be compared alongside traditional commercial organic fertiliser. The project has targets to boost organic carbon, nitrogen, potassium, enzyme activity and microbial abundance.

Along with improving the structure and organic matter of the soil, LIFE ZeoWine can close the waste cycle and cut emissions from farm machinery used to spread traditional fertilisers.  

See also: publication on LIFE and soil protection

Image 1: Vineyard (Pixabay)

Image 2:  © LIFE Soil4Wine. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.

Image 3: © LIFE Sarmiento. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.

Image 4: © LIFE Vinecos. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.

Image 5: Organic compost (Canva)

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