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Any wine grape producer who aims to remain sustainable over the long term, needs to adapt to climate change within their own wine growing region, says Conrad Schutte, manager of Vinpro’s viticultural consultation services. He shares 10 top tips to curb the effects of the drought:

1. Site selection
Choosing the right site to plant a vineyard could be considered one of the most important decisions. In order to select the most suitable site, producers should first perform a terrain analysis. This includes an investigation into parameters such as altitude, aspect, slope, curvature, solar radiation, day length hours, surface hydrology and distance from water bodies.

2. Soil survey
Do not plant on soil with low soil potential. Producers should make use of soil mapping that indicates spatial suitability, wetness and chemical properties.

3. Irrigation strategy
Producers need to avoid leaks, make sure the irrigation system functions at the correct pressure and clean filters regularly. Generally it’s better to apply big irrigations less frequently instead of applying less water per irrigation. Irrigation at night reduces evaporation losses before infiltration. Measuring soil water and plant water status leads to informed decisions. This is especially important when water resources are limited. It is important to irrigate during budding, flowering and véraison when plant water stress is observed.

4. Root distribution and soil preparation
Producers should aim to enlarge the buffer capacity of the vineyard by performing correct and deep soil preparation which leads to deep and well-developed root systems.

5. Water budgeting
To perform planning during dry years it’s important to know how much water is available for irrigation.

6. Mulching
Mulch materials limit surface run-off and evaporation losses, which could result in higher soil water content.

7. Management of cover crops and weed
Producers plant cover crops to supress weeds. They should remember to control these crops that could possibly compete for water and nutrients later in the growing season.

8. Fertilizers
Avoid over-fertilizing and only apply the necessary quantities of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. This should help to keep vigour in control.

9. Canopy management
Sucker unnecessary shoots and perform tipping and topping actions to avoid large canopies.

10. Crop and yield control
Crops are controlled by pruning and bunch removal at véraison. Ensure that the crop load is aligned with the available water and vineyard disease status.

“These tips will enable wine grape producers to remain robust during the dry and warm conditions that we’ve experienced in the past three seasons,” says Conrad.

Click here for a full resource on vineyard management in times of drought.

For more information contact the Vinpro Consultation Service at tel: 021 276 0432 or email gaynor@vinpro.co.za.

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