The Benefits of Contour Farming in a Changing Climate

Much has remained constant in the hills in Italy’s Conegliano and Valdobbiadene – they are, in fact, UN and ESCO World Heritage sites; one thing is for sure is the weather.

“With climate change we are subject more to sudden precipitation,” says Umberto Cosmo, owner of the Prosecco maker Bellenda Wines. “Having the vines parallel to the hill that will slow down the flow of the water is very important.”

Cosmo is talking about an agricultural method called contour farming. Cosmo states they started using the technique in their vineyards in the late 1990s. They have about 25 percent of their vineyards contoured and are making more changes from downhill rows.

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Contour farming is an ancient technique of agriculture that is gaining popularity in the vineyards as part of the new sustainability initiatives that aim to fight the impacts of climate change. As a regenerative and nature-based farming method, contouring is an environmentally sustainable for managing erosion and water. However, there are better options than all over the world. Should you contour or choose not to contour? Some vineyard owners are searching for an answer.

The Benefits of Curved Lines

As the name suggests, contour farming is utilizing your land’s contours. It includes tilling and planting on the slope and then building small ridges that are precisely right angles to the natural slope.

The aim is to remain at a constant level, or a slope that’s not damaging, as farming on sloped land could cause erosion to increase, says Allen Thompson, a professor ex-officio at the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources. As he suggests, an excellent visual reference is the isobars on a weather map.

The ridges themselves are likely to have a slope, although an insignificant one, to regulate the speed of water. The banks with a shallow slope slow water runoff by forming an alternative route for it to move. The slower flow of water means less soil is eroded when it travels. “When that water is trying to flow straight downhill, that ridge will intercept it, and then its grade or slope is slow enough that it prevents the water from scouring the hill,” Thompson says. Thompson.

In a vineyard in a vineyard, the lines of the vines are more likely to be placed on the contour. Contouring differs from terracing, as terraces are taller, but terraces frequently incorporate contouring, too, according to Thompson. Terracing can be costly and involves making construction, whereas contouring, on the contrary, isn’t. “Contouring is probably one of the cheapest [methods] that you use in agriculture to help control erosion and control runoff,” He says.

Amid climate change, contour farming offers inexpensive and efficient opportunities in the vineyard. Photo courtesy of Bellenda Wines.

Another benefit of contouring vineyards is the more effective drip irrigation. Drip irrigation generally uses low-pressure water, which is affected by elevation fluctuations. When you plant in a contour, the vines are situated close at the exact elevation, allowing for a more consistent water pressure. The contouring assists drip systems with emitters that compensate for stress. “If you can keep pretty much the same elevation across a particular row of plants, it makes it easier even for those compensating emitters to be effective,” Thompson says. Thompson.

The Challenges of Contour Farming

However, more suitable options exist for extremely hilly or flat terrain than contour farming. It’s recommended for areas with slopes ranging from three percent to eight percent, explains Thompson.

In the past, contour farming was primarily utilized in desert landscapes, he claims, and in periods of drought. For instance, it was investigated in the Dust Bowl era in the U.S. and also in South Africa in the 1940s. The research found that contouring could help conserve water and red, auction erosion, and slowing water flow across the earth.

It took a lot of work to implement in the past since contours have to be uniform. If the shapes aren’t even, they’ll not be as effective since they may create zones prone to water pooling. Today, farmers can use technology for precision farming, such as laser systems and GPS, to make the contours.

The main issue facing established vineyards is that the change to contouring involves taking every vine. Apart from losing plants, this land is produced only during the project.

“Contouring is probably one of the cheapest [methods] that you use in agriculture to help control erosion and control runoff.” — Allen Thompson, University of Missouri

Santa Rosa de Lavaderos produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carmenere, and Pais within Chile’s Maule Valley, employing organic methods. Vintner Paul Mc Rostie, who uses the grapes for Kodkod wine, claims that some vines are planted with contouring to aid in water control.

One disadvantage, Mc Rostie points out, is that one of the drawbacks is the trellis system, which is that the vertical shoot position is less stable because the wires are curved around the contour instead of being straight like they would in a straight row. “The farm workers don’t like it very much,” Mc Rostie states. “It needs some fixing and reinforcement and you have to be more careful or you break the poles in between.” Cosmo utilizes an arch-like cane trellising method at Bellenda; however, according to Thompson, an ideal trellis design for contour farming needs to be.

Contouring as Part of Sustainable Practices

Owner and winemaker Johan Reyneke says that Reyneke Wines, located in Stellenbosch, South Africa, switched to organic and biodynamic farming practices in 2000. For Reyneke, it’s crucial to adopt sustainable and sustainable farming practices to fight climate change.

They create contours-furrows that are two to three meters in width with a moderate slope at the end of their rows to capture the runoff from water (channelized into farm dams) and avoid soil erosion. They plant the vines on the contours when there is a steep slope. In such instances, they tend to maintain the wilderness areas.

Employing contour farming with broader sustainability practices is vital to maximize the technique’s impact. Photo credit: Paul McRostie.

The contours also function as biodiversity corridors. By planting endemic species of flora on the bottom that runs along the edges, they have created the environment for animals and a unique highway system for their farm. “If you’re a mouse or a porcupine, you can run across the entire farm without leaving the safety of your natural environment,” Reyneke says. Reyneke. “It’s a bit like the concept of the English hedgerows of olden times.”

The combination of contouring with grasses and cover crops is a great strategy, says Thompson, as the vegetation will help maintain the soil’s position and also help keep the contours. Mc Rostie is also a proponent of contouring with cover crops and other ways of protecting the earth.

Corso thinksbelieves grasses are an efficient method of preserving soil, and they can do so when they work in conjunction with contouring. They saw erosion underneath the vines in springs that were wet, which is why they now cut grass occasionally. “I travel quite a lot and I still see that in many countries there is a lot of work under the vineyard, so no grass at all,” says the man. says.” This is something that needs to be changed shortly.

One of the difficulties of being a UNESCO area is that Bellenda can only alter anything with consent. However, they’re still experimenting with contouring on their vineyards. Cosmo has heard of other producers in the area doing the same thing, although contour farming, as he states, “wasn’t in our tradition in the past.”


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