Effectiveness of incorporating cover crops for more sustainable soil management in Mediterranean vineyards

Soil degradation is one of the priority topics of European policies related to the maintenance of soil health. In particular, Mediterranean vineyard soils have very low contents of organic matter and serious risks of erosion.

The University of Burgos studied the efficacy of introducing different cover crops in vineyards in the D.O. “Ribera del Duero,” located at Aster Winery, Burgos, Spain, during the 2022 and 2023 campaigns. We introduced seeded and floral cover crops. In the vineyard rows, we introduced a floral mix of herbaceous species (90%) and pollinator-attracting wildflowers (10%), named the Floral Green Cover (FGC) treatment. In another four row replicates, we added a mix of a gramineous species (80%), Brachypodium distachyon, and leguminous species (20%), named the Seeded Green Cover (SGC) treatment. As a control treatment, we compared another four row replicates with spontaneous natural cover, named the Natural Green Cover (NGC), and also with traditional tillage keeping the soil bare, named the Control (CT).

The incorporation of different cover crops, floral (FGC) and seeded (SGC), did not result in a decrease in yield and quality production in the Mediterranean vineyard. The highest yield (kg/wine) was found in the SGC treatment during the 2022 campaign. Among the four treatments, NGC and SGC had greater floristic richness and abundance in both the 2022 and 2023 campaigns.

In the 2022 campaign, the FGC treatment had the highest abundance and diversity of arthropods. The most widespread arthropod was Formicidae, followed by Staphylinidae. In 2023, the most abundant arthropods were Formicidae.

We also observed that incorporating cover crops in vineyards improved soil quality parameters and helped mitigate erosive processes. Soil moisture was retained, and nutrients were fixed.

From our results, we can confirm that the cover crops were quickly established and contributed to maintaining soil health and quality, in addition to increasing biodiversity.