Contour small bench terraces with permanent green cover in vineyards [Switzerland]

Ganzjährig begrünte Kleinterrassen im Rebbau

technologies_1011 - Switzerland

Completeness: 63%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Technology

Key resource person(s)

SLM specialist:
SLM specialist:

Weissenbach Peter

Federal Research Station for fruit-growing, viticulture and horticulture-FAW


SLM specialist:

Spring Jean-Laurent

Federal Research Station for fruit-growing, viticulture and horticulture-RAC


land user:

Louis Hannes

Louis Weinbau


land user:

Hasler Lukas

Hasler Weinbau


Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
Federal Research Station for fruit-growing, viticulture and horticulture (FAW/RAC) - Switzerland
Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
CDE Centre for Development and Environment (CDE Centre for Development and Environment) - Switzerland

1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


1.5 Reference to Questionnaire(s) on SLM Approaches (documented using WOCAT)

2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

Contour small bench terraces with stabilising permanent green cover in steep sloping vineyards.

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


Description: The vineyards of the region are all, for micro-climatc reasons, more or less sloped. The technology is applied on steep to very steep slopes. It ist characterised by two elements: 1) small bench terrace with one contour-oriented vine row per terrace and 2) an initially sown all-year green cover of the soil surface for stabilisation reasons (green cover is also used between vine rows which are oriented up and down the slope, eg not terraced, see SWI01).
Purpose: Main purpose of the terrace construction is a possible mechanisation on steep to very steep slopes. Direct purpose of the green cover is the stabilisation of the small terraces, indirect but important purpose is the prevention of soil degradation, especially soil erosion by water and - secondary - to protect soil surface from compactation when using mechanised equipment.
Establishment: The terraces are constructed by external specialists and heavy machinery (walking excavator, type "Menzi Muck") and are considered to serve for a whole life cycle of the vine (20-40 years). The green cover is sown since stabilisation is needed from the very beginning on. The duration of the establishment is 3 years. Because of insufficient root length of young vines agronomic and vegetative measures differ from the "normal" measures: For reasons of competition the space around the freshly planted vines is kept free from vegetation with a hoe.
Maintenance: the topsoil is ripped from time to time with fuel driven machine (spade machine tracked by tractor). Cover vegetation is either cut or chopped and serves as mulching . Herbicides are applied around the vines. Minimum tillage and cutting / mulching may additionally serve to mobilise nutrients and to increase organic matter content or to eliminate competition of cover vegetation.
Natural environment: the vineyards are mainly placed on mountain or hill slopes, below 600 m a.s.l., annual rainfall is around 1000 mm with at least one erosive storm per year. The geological underground is limy, locally layered by Molasse (type of conglomerate). Soil properties are strongly influenced by anthropogenic activities (viticulture). Main degradation problem without green cover is erosion by water.
Human environment / land use: the region has a strong wine growing tradition (several centuries), belongs to the important Swiss wine growing regions and is not very densly populated.
First experiments with green cover in Switzerland were done in the 70ies around Zürich on contour small bench terraces, in the region of the lake of Biel contour small bench terraces with green cover started to be implemented in the 80ies

2.3 Photos of the Technology

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Technology has been applied and which are covered by this assessment



Region/ State/ Province:

Canton of Berne

Further specification of location:

Lake of Biel


The technology is applied in all winegrowing regions of Switzerland, but under different conditions.

2.6 Date of implementation

If precise year is not known, indicate approximate date:
  • less than 10 years ago (recently)

2.7 Introduction of the Technology

Specify how the Technology was introduced:
  • through projects/ external interventions
Comments (type of project, etc.):

The development of contour small bench terraces with green cover in vineyards was (also on the international level) essentially promoted and supported by the Federal Research Station for fruit-growing, viticulture and horticulture in Wädenswil (Canton of Zürich) and Changins (Canton of Vaud)

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.2 Current land use type(s) where the Technology is applied



  • Tree and shrub cropping
Tree and shrub cropping - Specify crops:
  • grapes
Number of growing seasons per year:
  • 1

Longest growing period in days: 210Longest growing period from month to month: Apr - Oct


Major land use problems (compiler’s opinion): The main problem was decreasing soil fertility, especially throug soil erosion by water with negative off-site effects like sand- /sediment deposition and contamination of groundwater by nutrients. It became a serious problem since the 60ies when the fact became visible that the traditional labour-intensive cultivation system, which was strongly dependent on external inputss, could no longer be sustained within an industrialised agriculture system.

Type of cropping system and major crops comments: a vine plantation is established for a period of 20-40 years (lifetime of a vine). Some farmers make one year of fallow between the destruction of the old and the establishment of a new plantation.

3.4 Water supply

Water supply for the land on which the Technology is applied:
  • mixed rainfed-irrigated

Water supply: rainfed, mixed rainfed - irrigated

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • improved ground/ vegetation cover
  • cross-slope measure
  • Stabilisation of terraces

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

3.7 Main types of land degradation addressed by the Technology

soil erosion by water

soil erosion by water

  • Wt: loss of topsoil/ surface erosion
  • Wo: offsite degradation effects
chemical soil deterioration

chemical soil deterioration

  • Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content (not caused by erosion)
  • Cp: soil pollution
physical soil deterioration

physical soil deterioration

  • Pc: compaction
  • Pk: slaking and crusting

Main type of degradation addressed: Wt: loss of topsoil / surface erosion, Wo: offsite degradation effects

Secondary types of degradation addressed: Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content, Cp: soil pollution, Pc: compaction, Pk: sealing and crusting

Main causes of degradation: other human induced causes (specify) (agricultural causes: fast changing basic conditions of viticulture in the last 100 years), education, access to knowledge and support services (lack of knowledge), fast changing basic conditions of viticulture (economy, laws)

3.8 Prevention, reduction, or restoration of land degradation

Specify the goal of the Technology with regard to land degradation:
  • reduce land degradation

Main goals: mitigation / reduction of land degradation

4. Technical specifications, implementation activities, inputs, and costs

4.1 Technical drawing of the Technology

Technical specifications (related to technical drawing):

Technical drawing of small contour bench terraces with permanent green cover. A = width of terrace, B = tractor area, C = distance between vine plant and terrace edge, D = gradient of terrace riser, E = distance of vine rows, F = orignal slope, G = zone of application of herbicides (10-40 cm).

Date: June 2003

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: high

Technical knowledge required for land users: moderate

Main technical functions: control of dispersed runoff: retain / trap, reduction of slope angle, reduction of slope length, improvement of ground cover

Secondary technical functions: control of raindrop splash, increase of surface roughness, increase in organic matter, increase of infiltration, increase / maintain water stored in soil, improvement of soil structure, increase in soil fertility

Material/ species: cut or chopped cover vegetation
Remarks: dispersed over the whole surface; if possible cutting/chopping (alternating)

Agronomic measure: removing less vegetation cover
Material/ species: cut or chopped cover vegetation, vine leaves and cut branches
Remarks: between vine rows

Manure / compost / residues
Material/ species: compost
Remarks: only sporadically (every 5-10 year or less)

Mineral (inorganic) fertilizers
Material/ species: nitrogen
Quantity/ density: 0-50 kg/ha
Remarks: normally rather little nitrogen

Agronomic measure: mineral (inorganic) fertilizers
Material/ species: potassium
Quantity/ density: 0-20 kg/ha

Agronomic measure: mineral (inorganic) fertilizers
Material/ species: magnesium
Quantity/ density: 0-25 kg/ha

Agronomic measure: mineral (inorganic) fertilizers
Material/ species: phosphorus
Quantity/ density: 0-20 kg/ha

Breaking compacted subsoil
Remarks: only on terrace, if possible only every second row/terrace (alternating)

Scattered / dispersed
Vegetative material: G : grass

Grass species: different grass species, taraxacum, veronica, legumes, calystegia, geranium...

Terrace: bench level
Vertical interval between structures (m): 1.3 m
Spacing between structures (m): 2.5 m

Construction material (earth): only earth of parcel

Slope (which determines the spacing indicated above): 60%

Lateral gradient along the structure: 0%

Vegetation is used for stabilisation of structures.


Nicole Güdel, Berne, Switzerland

4.3 Establishment activities

Activity Timing (season)
1. sowing cover vegetation on the terrace riser (for stabilisation) (nonrecurring) winter/spring, usually at the same time as a new plantation is established
2. letting grow natural cover vegetation on terrace (nonrecurring) winter/spring, usually at the same time as a new plantation is established
3. Removing vegetation around vines (diameter of vegetation-free zone: 10 - 40 cm) during season (Mai – October), 2 - 4 times, when necessary.
4. removing old vines winter/spring
5. deep tillage winter/spring
6. construction of terraces winter/spring
7. support of construction of terraces winter/spring

4.4 Costs and inputs needed for establishment


Duration of establishment phase: 36 month(s)

4.5 Maintenance/ recurrent activities

Activity Timing/ frequency
1. cuting and not removing vine leaves and branches winter / annual
2. fertilising (mineral or manure/compost) April/May / annual
3. cutting / chopping and then mulcihng cover vegetation during cropping season (first time April/May) / each row 2-4 times during cropping season
4. cuting and not removing vine leaves and branches during cropping season / several times during cropping season
5. breaking compacted topsoil April/May / each row every 4-8 years
6. application of herbicides (glyphosates) beginning of season (May), if necessary second time in Aug./Sept /once (if necessary twice) during s
7. putting back earth which war fallen from the terrace riser to the terrace winter/spring/if necessary
8. slightly reshaping terraces winter/spring/if necessary

4.6 Costs and inputs needed for maintenance/ recurrent activities (per year)


Machinery/ tools: e.g.: walking excavator, hoe, mower with tracked vehicle or portable motor scythe, spading machine with tracked vehicle; knapsack sprayer or biocide t

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

(manual) labour

5. Natural and human environment

5.1 Climate

Annual rainfall
  • < 250 mm
  • 251-500 mm
  • 501-750 mm
  • 751-1,000 mm
  • 1,001-1,500 mm
  • 1,501-2,000 mm
  • 2,001-3,000 mm
  • 3,001-4,000 mm
  • > 4,000 mm
Specifications/ comments on rainfall:

Average: Biel: 1200 mm. Region of Bielersee: 1000 - 1200 mm. Neuchâtel: 930 mm.

Agro-climatic zone
  • sub-humid

Thermal climate class: temperate

5.2 Topography

Slopes on average:
  • flat (0-2%)
  • gentle (3-5%)
  • moderate (6-10%)
  • rolling (11-15%)
  • hilly (16-30%)
  • steep (31-60%)
  • very steep (>60%)
  • plateau/plains
  • ridges
  • mountain slopes
  • hill slopes
  • footslopes
  • valley floors
Altitudinal zone:
  • 0-100 m a.s.l.
  • 101-500 m a.s.l.
  • 501-1,000 m a.s.l.
  • 1,001-1,500 m a.s.l.
  • 1,501-2,000 m a.s.l.
  • 2,001-2,500 m a.s.l.
  • 2,501-3,000 m a.s.l.
  • 3,001-4,000 m a.s.l.
  • > 4,000 m a.s.l.
Comments and further specifications on topography:

Altitudinal zone: 501-1000 m a.s.l. (For climatic reasons vines grow hardly above 600 m a.s.l. in Switzerland)
Landforms: Hill slopes (most of them southeastward sloping hills (part of the Jura mountain range))
Slopes on average: Steep (31-60%) (Vines are planted on different slopes. But contour small bench terraces are applied at steep slopes)

5.3 Soils

Soil depth on average:
  • very shallow (0-20 cm)
  • shallow (21-50 cm)
  • moderately deep (51-80 cm)
  • deep (81-120 cm)
  • very deep (> 120 cm)
Soil texture (topsoil):
  • medium (loamy, silty)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • medium (1-3%)
If available, attach full soil description or specify the available information, e.g. soil type, soil PH/ acidity, Cation Exchange Capacity, nitrogen, salinity etc.

Soil depth: From shallow to very deep (Soil depth is very irregular, at some places limestone rocks appear at the surface, at other places soil can be quite deep.But if soil is very shallow for the whole parcel contour small bench terraces)
Soil fertilits is medium (Vines are normally grown on rather marginal spots. Compared to the general productivity these soils have a medium fertility. (If measured at the vine itself, soil fertility is sufficient/high))
Topsoil organic matter is medium (loamy,silty) (without / before SWC (green cover))
Soil drainage/infiltration is mostly good, at some spots medium (depressions; when high percentage of clay)
Soil water storage capacity is medium (without / before SWC (green cover)), high (without / before SWC (green cover)) or low (without / before SWC (green cover). Depressions; when high percentage of clay)

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • commercial/ market
Off-farm income:
  • less than 10% of all income
Relative level of wealth:
  • average
Level of mechanization:
  • manual work
  • mechanized/ motorized
Indicate other relevant characteristics of the land users:

Population density: 200-500 persons/km2
Annual population growth: 0.5% - 1%
Off-farm income specification: This is representative for the full time winegrowers. The majority of winegrowers do winegrowing beside a regular off-farm job as a hobby. Nearly all winegrowers have implementeted the SWC technology. Probably there is no difference in hobby-winegrowers and full-time-winegrowers concernring implementation of the SWC technology.
Level of mechanization: Manual labour (most of the work in the vineyard is done by hand (especially harvest)) or mechanised (some of the activities are carried out with fuel driven equipment. But mechanisation is moderate since big and heavy machines cannot been applied in these vineyards).
Market orientation is commercial/market (in the region of the lake of Biel the majority of grapes are pressed to wine an then and sold directly from the farm's wine cellar)

5.7 Average area of land used by land users applying the Technology

  • < 0.5 ha
  • 0.5-1 ha
  • 1-2 ha
  • 2-5 ha
  • 5-15 ha
  • 15-50 ha
  • 50-100 ha
  • 100-500 ha
  • 500-1,000 ha
  • 1,000-10,000 ha
  • > 10,000 ha

Average area of land owned or leased by land users applying the Technology: 0.5-1 ha, 1-2 ha, 2-5 ha, 5-15 ha (only winegrowing land!)

5.8 Land ownership, land use rights, and water use rights

Land ownership:
  • individual, titled
Land use rights:
  • individual

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts


crop production

Comments/ specify:

maximum production capacity is reduced due to 1. Plantation density is smaller and 2. Capacity per vine is reduced due to slight competition of water and nutrients, intensified in the terrace riser under dry conditions

crop quality

Comments/ specify:

Reduced quality of wine occurs when strong competition of water and nutrients happen and nothing is done against it.

risk of production failure

Comments/ specify:

Higher susceptibility to fungal decay due to higher evapotranspiration rate with green cover and therefore humid microclimatic conditions. Other problems are competition over water and nutrients or danger of frost - negligible - only in depressions or plains (due to higher evapotranspiration rate)

Income and costs

farm income

Comments/ specify:

Primarily due to less costs, especially resulting from less erosion damages in the long term (because of green cover). Secondary due to marketing argument "ecological agricultural production", subsidies related to green cover (direct payment which is only


Comments/ specify:

More and specific knowledge necessary

Other socio-economic impacts

Inputs for mechanisation

Comments/ specify:

Special machines needed, mechanisation is almost a must to be economically successful in the long term

Socio-cultural impacts

health situation

Comments/ specify:

Healthier than without SWC, less application of biocides and more comfortable and healty posture of body.

community institutions

Comments/ specify:

Increased exchange of knowledge and contacts in winegrowers society

national institutions

Comments/ specify:

Research stations gained new knowledge and attention

SLM/ land degradation knowledge

Comments/ specify:

Among winegrowers, but perhaps also slightly among consumers (through an ecological marketing argument) or walkers (walking through a green vineyard may arise interest in green cover).

conflict mitigation

Comments/ specify:

Between generations or between farmers applying green cover and others. Reason: farmers are differently attached to traditional values and norms (i.e.: traditionally every plant was seen as unuseful weed and fought with a hoe).

Personal satisfaction / challenge

Comments/ specify:

Many farmers apply green cover see green cover as a personal satisfaction or challenge for an ecologically and economically sustainable viticulture

Acceptance by society

Comments/ specify:

Landscape and appearance of Landscape & appearance of vineyard as cultural heritage. Different values an norms of "how a vineyard should look like". Traditionally vines were planted very dense with no vegetation cover in between. Contour small bench terraces are quite new to the area (20-30 years)

Ecological impacts


soil moisture

Comments/ specify:

Especially through improved water retention capacity (due to improved soil structure)

soil cover


soil loss

Comments/ specify:

Mainly due to green cover (rather than terraces)

soil compaction

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

invasive alien species

Comments/ specify:

Undesirable plant and animal species (i.e. mice (can hamper stability of terrace riser and terrace itself))

pest/ disease control

Comments/ specify:

Through beneficial animals

Climate and disaster risk reduction

wind velocity

Other ecological impacts


Comments/ specify:

High diversity due to different habitats (extensively managed terrace riser and terrace)

Soil fertility


6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

downstream flooding


downstream siltation


groundwater/ river pollution


wind transported sediments


6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

How do the benefits compare with the establishment costs (from land users’ perspective)?
Short-term returns:

very negative

Long-term returns:

neutral/ balanced

How do the benefits compare with the maintenance/ recurrent costs (from land users' perspective)?
Short-term returns:

slightly negative

Long-term returns:

neutral/ balanced

6.5 Adoption of the Technology

Of all those who have adopted the Technology, how many did so spontaneously, i.e. without receiving any material incentives/ payments?
  • 91-100%

10% of land user families have adopted the Technology with external material support

Comments on acceptance with external material support: estimates

90% of land user families have adopted the Technology without any external material support

Comments on spontaneous adoption: estimates

There is a strong trend towards spontaneous adoption of the Technology

Comments on adoption trend: Contour small bench terraces with green cover are seen as good opportunity for viticulture in steep slopes. Adoption is done mainly spontaneous

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

Links and modules

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