This project has laid the groundwork for a soil quality monitoring service that can be used by grape growers to assess the health status of their soils to help them manage this resource. The most appropriate set of indicator tests (a minimum dataset, MDS) to characterise soil quality was identified and published as two companion review papers in the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research. The MDS was used as a standardized tool to build a database of regional soil datasets for Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Yarra Valley and Murray Darling hosted on the website: www.soilquality.org.au as part of a national cross-industry soil monitoring database. The MDS and the standardized sampling methods were adopted by Treasury Wine Estates, Peter Lehmann and the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association in 2014 which will expand the regional benchmarking databases into the future.
This project has laid the groundwork for a soil quality monitoring service that can be used by grape growers to assess the health status of their soils to help them manage this resource. It is the first time the industry has standardized comparisons of soil quality for the midrow, undervine and an adjacent native site. This information is important for correct management within vineyards and can also be used by the industry as a whole to support industry stewardship.
In order to develop such a monitoring system, the project team identified the most appropriate set of indicator tests (a minimum dataset, MDS) which can be used to characterise soil quality, including tests of the physical, chemical and biological properties. The key focus of the first year was to review current indicator tests to identify those tests which provide a MDS that can predict required changes needed for vineyard management. The MDS was chosen on the basis of both scientific merit and practicality. The project team drew on available expertise and datasets within the viticultural research community and from soil scientists engaged in soil quality monitoring conducted outside the wine industry. Two companion review papers have been published in the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research providing the basis for the choice of the MDS.
The MDS was tested at several sites in project year 1, using standardized sampling methods developed by the team, to ensure that the indicators were able to discriminate between paired sites where different management practices, such as mulch application, undervine compost, etc, had been applied. The MDS variables were affected by the treatments and therefore can be expected to measure improvement associated with management practices. This information formed the basis of a Project Review workshop held at the end of the first year to review the direction of the project and determine the activities and outcomes for the subsequent project years 2 and 3. Project years 2 and 3 included (i) assessments based on regional grower groups of the ease of utilisation of a standardized set of soil health indicators, (ii) benchmarking studies associated with these, and (iii) the provision of industry information packages and workshops.