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Assessment of soil health in vineyards

Rawnsley, B.
Acta horticulturae 2014 no.1018 pp. 417-423
Nematoda, Vitis, autumn, bacteria, environmental factors, fungi, growing season, microbial biomass, monitoring, mulches, mulching, root growth, soil biological properties, soil organic carbon, soil quality, soil sampling, soil types, soil water, spring, summer, sward, temperature, vineyards, South Australia
Commercially available analysis of soil microbial population and activity are now available but these tests provide limited information and can be difficult to interpret. The validity of soil biological tests to assess soil health was compared from three commercial testing services. Soils from four vineyards under different soil management practices of conventional cultivation, under-vine mulch, permanent sward or biodynamic in the Barossa Valley, South Australia were sampled during the 2009-2010 growing season. Soils were collected at three times during the season to coincide with grapevine root growth i.e., late spring, summer and autumn. Soil samples were collected from each vineyard and analysed for chemical, physical and biological soil properties including total active microbial biomass, fungi and bacteria and nematodes. Soil organic carbon was low at all sites except the mulched vineyard. Test results were highly variable between the laboratories due to different methodologies used. Soil microbial biomass was low at all vineyards. Commercial services suggested desirable levels for microbial populations and activity but these were not tailored to crop type and did not reflect specific environmental conditions such as soil moisture, soil type or temperature. Soil health tests provide a useful guide on soil biology but continued monitoring at a single site is needed to assess the effect of soil management practices over time.