Under-vine weed management in Organic Vineyards

Modern vignerons manage organic vineyard weed control and under-vine weed management in several ways.  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.

Now that the European Union is considering banning glyphosate, other methods are being looked at. One of them is the “Silly Plough”.

Silly Plough or Strip Digger – Vineyard weed control

At Harris Organic vineyard the growth under vineyard weed control uses a “silly plough”. Harris has never included any chemical herbicide usage in their vineyard weed control.

The small Iseki G174 diesel tractor was used. Pulling the “silly plough” along the rows to strip away the soil and growth under the vines.  This aids the health and fitness of the operator and the communication skills of the plough-man and driver. Now you can guess who drove the tractor and who did the yelling!

under vine weeding with a single-bladed silly plough
Strip digging
Ploughing in the vineyard
Strip digging with silly plough in the vineyard

Under vine weeding, hat on, glasses focussed

Are you ready?
plough5 under vine weed
Not too fast!

Organic vineyard weed control

Mechanical Weeding, not Chemical Weeding

There is a lot we can learn from the old ways in the Swan Valley region about organic vineyard 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 to organic viticulture.

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 for organic weed control.

Vineyard Chemicals for weed control

Vineyard chemicals for weed control encompass various herbicides tailored to address specific weed species and environmental considerations.

Glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, are commonly used for broad-spectrum weed control in vineyards due to their effectiveness and relatively low environmental persistence.

Additionally, pre-emergent herbicides like trifluralin and pendimethalin provide valuable preventive measures against weed establishment by inhibiting seed germination.

Selective herbicides such as oxyfluorfen and clethodim offer targeted control of specific weed species while minimising the impact on grapevines.

Integrating these chemicals into a comprehensive weed management strategy can effectively mitigate weed competition in vineyards while prioritising, so-called, environmental sustainability.

Vineyard Mechanical weed control

Organic vignerons are turning to Vineyard Mechanical weed control by employing engineering companies that produce practical, versatile machines that combine several operations. These are all changeable to the base unit on the tractor.

Use an under-vine blade,  mulcher or a rotary hoe which are easily attached to the side-mounted unit. as a beneficial system.

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.

Swan Valley - Organic Vineyard - Strip Digging
Strip digging at Harris Organic

Glyphosate resistance – weed killer for vines

Glyphosate resistance is already a problem across the country, due to normal weeds becoming resistant to herbicide as weed killer for vines. My neighbour has a well-kept vineyard, however, after 50 years of herbicide use the grasses and weeds are becoming resistant to the chemicals.

Then we should all be looking at ways we can manage our weed populations. Also, effective, efficient and in the most sustainable manner by ploughing. In the first instance given the under-vine area, shallow ploughing removes the chemical-resistant weeds.

“When is glyphosate going to be banned in Australia”, that is, the question.

Tractorless vineyard – how to keep weeds away from grape vines

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.

A dual business between grape growers and free-range egg producers may be the answer.

Vineyard Ground cover species

AWRI has investigated several different ground cover species, such as kangaroo grass, triticale and prostrate salt bush as all possible ground cover crops to use in a vineyard. This year we are experimenting with not ploughing a row, letting everything go to seed and see what happens in the coming year.