Charles Sturt is collaborating with industry to research the impact of improving the ecosystems surrounding Australian vineyards aiming to provide viable solutions to growers to save time, money and resources
By Professor in Applied Ecology in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences Geoff Gurr in Orange.
There are many benefits that can be provided by ecosystem services and at Charles Sturt University we are tapping into ways these methods can do the ‘heavy lifting’ for growers, saving them time, money and resources.
Ecosystem services are also known as ‘nature’s contributions to people’ and can be delivered by certain plant species grown in and around vineyards to provide tangible benefits to the operation of the site.
Our research is aiming to expand the understanding of ecosystem services in the Australian vineyard context by studying groundcover species and vineyard-adjacent vegetation in field and laboratory trials.
The aim is to identify the functional traits of a range of species to develop practical, evidence-based recommendation for Australian vineyard managers to benefit from these ecosystem services.
For example, over the 2021-22 growing season, we conducted experiments to determine whether positioning plant species between and under grapevines, or native trees and shrubs growing nearby vineyards, would reduce the population of pests by encouraging their predators.
Within the next 18 months, we aim to be able to make evidence-based recommendations to growers on the optimum mix of plant species to manage pests without resorting to chemicals.
Field work is being complemented by laboratory trials that have shown, for example, that the nectar from some gum trees can boost the lifespan and reproduction of beneficial wasps that attack lightbrown apple moth, a key pest of grapes.
The research team will develop a package, including video case studies and cost-benefit ratios, detailing the practicalities of harnessing benefits from groundcovers and vegetation surrounding vineyards.
Our research will help growers by reducing the need to spray for insect pests, vine diseases and weeds. It can also help reduce frost risk, improve aesthetics, and improve worker safety.
The fact that this project is funded by Wine Australia using grower levy funds is testament to the commitment of the industry to developing innovative clean-green options and reduce reliance on synthetic inputs.
Already, the project’s results are attracting industry attention; the team will be presenting their latest findings at the Wine Industry Technical Conference in June and the Tasmanian Viticulture Field Day in September 2022.
This article first appeared on Wine Australia.