Vineyards are some of the most intensively managed agro-ecosystems and are typically depleted in soil organic carbon (SOC) and vulnerable to soil nitrogen (N) loss. Vineyard management practices such as tillage reduce the protection of stable soil aggregates and removal of natural vegetation for crop conversion reduces soil organic matter (SOM) accumulation and protection. The direct effects of management practices on soil health render vineyard soils especially vulnerable to degradation and reduce their climate adaptability. Therefore, implementing management practices - such as the use of cover crops - that build and maintain SOC and N are of paramount importance to the wine industry. At present industry engagement in sustainable vineyard management is largely ad-hoc, as many managers view the practices as laborious, and believe that quantifying the results of their efforts is largely inaccessible. A low-cost and accessible infrared spectroscopy method has been developed to measure and predict changes in soil organic carbon is response to practices such as cover cropping and tillage.
At the time of travel (November 2019), I was a 3rd year PhD researcher from the University of Western Sydney/University of Aberdeen seeking to extend my research through international collaboration on sustainable vineyard management. In late 2019 I submitted my manuscript entitled “Soil carbon and nitrogen pools are increased by cover cropping in South Australian vineyards: detecting short-term management effects using infrared spectroscopy” for peer review. The paper covered my 2016-18 work at the WA/University of Adelaide under-vine cover cropping trials in SA, and clearly demonstrated the benefit of grass and legume cover crops in increasing plant available nitrogen (N) and increasing soil organic carbon (SOC). Additionally, I successfully employed a low-cost, efficient and easily accessible infrared spectroscopy technique to measure and predict these outcomes related to cover crop management. The purpose of the travel was to visit Pennsylvania, New York state and Virginia to collect soils from comparable cover cropping trials and perform infrared spectral analyses (IRS) in order to extend the capacity of IRS to be used in vineyards globally.