UNDERVINE WEED MANAGEMENT
Vineyard weed control
Organic Vineyard weed control is managed in several ways by modern vignerons. Mostly chemical means, using glyphosate, an organic salt, other chemical herbicide means, usually by spraying a fine mist onto all the plants under vine and by mechanical means, using ploughs that cut the soil or rotary action.
At Harris Organic vineyard the Spring under vine grapevine weed control has never included any chemical herbicide usage.
Every spring the Massey Ferguson MF135 diesel tractor was used to pull the “silly plough” along the rows to strip away the soil and growth under the vines. This aids to the health and fitness of the operator and to the communication skills of plough-man and driver. Now you can guess who drove the tractor and who did the yelling!
Mechanical Weeding, not Chemical Weeding
There is a lot we can learn from the old ways in the Swan Valley region about grapevine weed control. At a recent European exhibition, there was not a single under-vine herbicide machine, they were all mechanical machines as many European vineyards are going organic.
Further, this gives some context to the recent decision from the French and Belgium Governments to ban the sale of glyphosate (the active constituent in Roundup). A large portion of European grape growers is opting for organic/biodynamic vineyards. The progress of the organic movement has allowed the advancement of chemical-free options.
Organic vignerons are turning to engineering companies which produce practical, versatile machines that combine a number of operations. These are all changeable to the base unit on the tractor.
Then the system uses an under vine blade, mulcher and a rotary hoe which are easily attached to the side-mounted unit. This gives the grapevine grower the ability to adapt to each vineyard situation which is crucial in Australian vineyards due to our varied weed species, vine age and differing soil types.
Here in this video is what we do now in our organic vineyard.
As glyphosate resistance is already a problem across the country, due to normal weeds becoming resistant to herbicides.
Then we should all be looking at ways we can manage our weed populations. Also, this can be done effectively, efficiently and in the most sustainable manner by ploughing. In the first instance giving the under vine area, a shallow ploughing removes the chemical-resistant weeds.
This leads on to the question, “When is glyphosate going to be banned in Australia”?
Is it possible to have a tractorless vineyard? Yes, I believe it is possible, however, the capital cost may be prohibitive, depending on how it is set up.
I can envisage a fox-proof fenced vineyard, that is filled with free-range chickens during the autumn, winter and spring. During the summer the chickens would need to be housed in a separate area away from the vines as free-range chickens eat grapes.
The free-range chickens will clean up and weed all the vineyard and reduce ground-dwelling vine pests as well as pest control.
Sheep may be an alternative too, but they will eat spring shoots.
I can see it may be a dual business between grape grower and free-range egg producer.