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Villa Maria trials native plants as herbicides alternative

Published:  21 February, 2020

Villa Maria Estate has embarked on a trial using native plants and cover crops as an alternative to herbicides. 

The trial, which is carried out in partnership with New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries, is taking place at two sites in the Hawkes Bay - Gimblett Gravels Syrah and Bridge Pa silt loam Merlot, with several different varieties being trialed. 

The aim is to test if the plants are effective in suppressing weeds without negatively impacting vine health and grape quality, Villa Maria Estate told Harpers.    

Additional benefits such as biodiversity, soil structure and moisture retention is also being monitored, it added. 

“If successful the use of native plants or cover crops could reduce carbon emissions and labour costs associated with weed management, improve vineyard ecosystems and nurture the soil,” said Karen Titulaer, business sustainability and risk manager, Villa Maria Estate

“There may be challenges with sourcing the plants and upfront costs however Villa Maria has learnt that making sustainable decisions means taking a long term view,” she said. 

The preliminary findings were “positive”, she added, with the initial phase of trial due to finish in June 2020. It started in August 2019.

“Our biggest challenge and goal is to manage vineyards without herbicides for weed control. In organic vineyards under vine cultivation or mowing is often used which damage vines and means more tractor use with fuel use and soil compaction.  

“Maintaining soil health and structure is core to sustainable vineyard management and builds resilience to the droughts or heavy rains that are increasing with climate change.”

As members of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, Villa Maria said it would be sharing any solutions or learnings with the wider New Zealand wine industry. 

“It’s a collaborative industry when it comes to sustainability as we are all focused on caring for the land we love,” said Titulaer.    

As part of its regenerative approach viticulture, Villa Maria has been converting vineyards to organic management for 20 years.