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Irrigation may help grape growers manage weeds

Weeds in vineyards are significant pests because they compete with grape vines for water and nutrients. Because vineyards are hill crops, vineyard weeds cannot be managed by plowing. Erosion of valuable soil and contamination of wetlands and lakes by soil and fertilizer would result. Herbicides are therefore important tools for grape growers in New York. Yet herbicides, too, can become contaminants. Cover crops have been studied at Cornell in recent years as an alternative to herbicides, but these, like the weeds themselves, can compete with vines for water.

In a 1996 project, horticulturists Bob Pool and Alan Lakso, of the Geneva Experiment Station, and two research support specialists from the Fredonia Vineyard Laboratory looked at irrigation as a way to enhance weed control. They found that irrigated vineyards were able to tolerate more weed or cover crop competition than nonirrigated vineyards. The irrigated vines didn't have to compete with surrounding ground cover or weeds for water. These first-year results suggest that irrigation may be a viable means of managing weeds while reducing herbicide use.