Activity 15

Unique Cover Crops, Rootstocks, and Irrigation Techniques for Canadian Vineyards


Project Introduction

Grape growers are increasingly interested in finding strategies to enhance vineyards long-term productivity while improving the overall ecosystem health. The market for more organic or sustainable wine is also an incentive that encourages some grape growers to adopt these practices. The boom of organic viticulture and more generally the increased demand for wine products with a smaller environmental footprint (e.g. reduced loss of nutrients, lower net greenhouse gas emissions, less energy use and pollution), underscore the need to explore the management practices that enhance ecosystem services and consequently improve the resilience of these ecosystems. Here we propose using cover crops, rootstocks, and novel irrigation strategies to enhance vineyard resilience in the face of climate change and increase its economic and environmental sustainability.

Grape is the most widely-planted fruit crop in the world with > 50% of the fruit used to make wine. In Canada, vineyards are a lucrative industry which represents several million dollars in revenue (excluding tourism). Several grape growers have moved towards integrated pest management and organic farming. Many questions remain, however, as to how optimizing the agroecosystem in a way that the soil remains healthy and fertile leading to grape productivity and quality, especially with concern coming from climate change and possibilities of increased extreme weather events such as droughts. Therefore finding an integrated solution that can help balance these goals would be profitable for organic vineyards as well as conventional growers.

In recent years, cover crops in vineyards have been used with positive effects on yield and/or sensory attributes and soil function. Cover crops in organic vineyards present essential services such as water infiltration, carbon sequestration, soil nutrient supply, weed and pest suppression, and marketing opportunities. However, there are concerns over competition between cover crops and vine. Research must introduce suitable species and management practices appropriate for each region. Two other major challenges facing growers under climatic change, especially extreme events such as droughts, are rootstock cultivar and irrigation management. Indeed climate can jeopardize grape production and aromas. There is a need to examine which rootstocks can better perform under such adverse conditions and how irrigation can be optimized to reduce impacts. A limited number of rootstocks have been used in Canadian vineyards, and very little published research is available.

This project will first screen cover crop species and mixtures for each region (semi-arid and humid). A short list of suitable options will be tested under field conditions. Soil and plant water status under different irrigation systems will be monitored as well as three grape cultivars in terms of productivity and berry composition responses. Finally the project will involve interactions between cover crops, rootstocks and irrigation strategies. By its originality of being spread in two provinces where climatic conditions greatly vary, the project will benefit growers by giving them a decision tool that can guide them when adoption different strategies related to cover crops, irrigation and rootstocks. This tool will be extract from the commonalities and differences between regions.

Final Report Summary

Organic grape growers are challenged with finding strategies that will help to enhance sustainability of vineyard productivity in the face of climate change. This project aimed to develop and test the impacts of novel strategies, including combinations of cover crops, rootstocks, and irrigation, for enhancing vineyard soil health and thus grape production and quality in two major wine growing regions of Canada (BC and ON). Two options for the placement of cover crops in vineyards were tested in this study...

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Activity researchers


Liette Vasseur (Activity Leader)  

Brock University

Mehdi Sharifi (Activity Leader)
AAFC Summerland

Miranda Hart

University of British Columbia, Kelowna, BC

Kathryn Carter


Lisa Wambold