Green cover in vineyards [Switzerland]

Begrünung von Rebflächen (im Direktzug / in der Falllinie bewirtschaftet)

technologies_1018 - Switzerland

Completeness: 71%

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 project which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
Book project: where the land is greener - Case Studies and Analysis of Soil and Water Conservation Initiatives Worldwide (where the land is greener)
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:

Naturally growing or sown perennial grasses/herbs providing cover
between rows in sloping vineyards, where the vines are usually oriented up and down slope.

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


The area around Lake Biel has a strong wine growing tradition dating back several centuries. The vineyards are, for micro-climatic reasons, sited on the southwest facing slope close to the lake. Annual rainfall is about 1,000 mm, with at least one erosive storm per year, and the soils are highly erodible. In conventional viniculture all weeds are controlled chemically. The ‘green cover technology’ comprises sown, or naturally occurring, perennial grasses and herbs which form a biodiverse green cover - a ‘living mulch’ - over the soil surface between vine rows. In this region, rows are generally oriented up and down the slope for ease of machine operation. Green cover may also be applied where vines are grown on narrow bench terraces. The purpose is the prevention of soil degradation, especially soil erosion by water. Secondary purposes include protection of the soil surface from compaction when using mechanised equipment, and promotion of biodiversity.
Green cover is generally established naturally - except on contour-planted terraced vineyards, where cover is planted for immediate stabilisation of the terraces. To avoid competition, a 10-40 cm diameter zone around the freshly planted vines is kept free from vegetation: during the three year establishment period it is removed by hoe, later it is controlled with herbicides (either as a strip along vine rows or around individual vines). The topsoil between the vine rows is ripped every few years with an implement pulled by a small caterpillar tractor. The green cover vegetation is cut, chopped and left as mulch several times using special mulching machines. These operations are not carried out over the whole field at once: alternate rows are left untouched to ensure that some vegetation remains to maintain biodiversity. When these rows redevelop their green cover, the others are then treated. This is effectively a minimum tillage system, building up organic matter in the soil. Cutting and mulching, in addition to ripping, serves to circulate nutrients. Mineral fertilizer and herbicides are applied once a year around the vines. Experiments with the technology started in the 1970s, but green cover has now become standard practice.
Supportive measures include not removing crop residues (from vineyards) which are chopped later - simultaneously with the cover crop (grass) - to protect the soil surface, and irrigation in dry years.

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 wine growing 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 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)

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

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



  • Perennial (non-woody) cropping
  • 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 through soil erosion by water, caused by lack of soil cover and intensive cultivation. There were associated negative offsite effects including sand/sediment deposition and contamination of groundwater by nutrients. This became a serious problem from the 1960s when the traditional labour-intensive methods were superseded by a mechanised-industrial agricultural 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

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

agronomic measures

agronomic measures

  • A7: Others
vegetative measures

vegetative measures

  • V5: Others

Main measures: agronomic measures, vegetative measures

Specification of other agronomic measures: minimum tillage: cutting & mulching, ripping

Specification of other vegetative measures: cover cropping

Type of agronomic measures: mulching, manure / compost / residues, mineral (inorganic) fertilizers, breaking compacted topsoil

Type of vegetative measures: scattered / dispersed

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, Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content, Cp: soil pollution

Secondary types of degradation addressed: 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 green cover on parcel with vine rows oriented up and down the slope. A = distance between vine rows (130-220 cm), B = zone of application of herbicides (10-40 cm).

Location: Twann, Lake of Biel. Canton of Berne

Date: June 2003

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: moderate

Technical knowledge required for land users: moderate

Main technical functions: control of raindrop splash, control of dispersed runoff: retain / trap, improvement of ground cover, improvement of soil structure

Secondary technical functions: increase of surface roughness, increase in organic matter, increase of infiltration, increase / maintain water stored in soil, increase in soil fertility

Material/ species: cut or chopped cover vegetation
Remarks: dispersed over the whole surface; if possible cutting/chopping only every second row (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: potassium
Quantity/ density: 0-20 kg

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

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

Breaking compacted topsoil
Remarks: if possible: only every second row (alternating)

Scattered / dispersed
Vegetative material: G : grass

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


Nicole Güdel, Berne, Switzerland

4.2 General information regarding the calculation of inputs and costs

other/ national currency (specify):

Swiss Franc

If relevant, indicate exchange rate from USD to local currency (e.g. 1 USD = 79.9 Brazilian Real): 1 USD =:


4.3 Establishment activities

Activity Timing (season)
1. Allow natural cover to establish. winter/spring, usually at the same time as a new plantation is established
2. Weeding around base of vines to reduce competition, 2–4 times during during season (Mai – October), 2 - 4 times, when necessary.

4.4 Costs and inputs needed for establishment

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Labour Labour ha 1.0 13800.0 13800.0 100.0
Equipment Machine use ha 1.0 1000.0 1000.0 100.0
Equipment Tools ha 1.0 100.0
Plant material Seeds of natural vegetation ha 1.0 100.0
Fertilizers and biocides Fertilizer ha 1.0 200.0 200.0 100.0
Fertilizers and biocides Biocides ha 1.0 100.0
Fertilizers and biocides Compost/manure ha 1.0 100.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology 15000.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology in USD 20000.0

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. Apply mineral fertilizer to the vines (particularly K, N, P, Mg) April/May / annual
3. Cut cover vegetation with a portable motor scythe or mower with 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. Minimum tillage (rip topsoil) of alternating inter-rows with machine 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. Cut/chop vine leaves and wood for mulching during growing season, 2-4 times

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

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Labour Labour ha 1.0 1500.0 1500.0 100.0
Equipment Machine use ha 1.0 650.0 650.0 100.0
Equipment Tools ha 1.0 100.0
Fertilizers and biocides Fertilizer ha 1.0 60.0 60.0 100.0
Fertilizers and biocides Biocides ha 1.0 90.0 90.0 100.0
Fertilizers and biocides Compost/manure ha 1.0 100.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology 2300.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology in USD 3066.67

Machinery/ tools: e.g.: hoe, mower with tracked vehicle or portable motor scythe, spading machine with tracked vehicle; knapsack sprayer or biocide tank transported by

Costs are calculated on the basis of vine rows being oriented up and down the slope, a distance between rows of
1.3-2.2 m and 6,500 vines per ha on a slope of <60%. Establishment costs have been estimated and are representative of the situation when green cover is encouraged to establish at the same time as new vines are planted (normal practice). This means that the estimated costs include all the annual agronomic and vegetative inputs within the first 3 years during the establishment phase. If green cover is implemented more than 3 years after planting new vines, establishment costs are much reduced, because the vines are bigger, competition with the green cover is less, and the vines are not so sensitive to herbicides, which permits the replacement of labour intensive manual weeding by application of herbicides. Maintenance costs are based on one typical winegrower in the region. Initial investments in machinery and costs directly attributable to ‘plant capital’ (the vines) are not included.

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

Labour is the major cost component, since wage levels are very high in Switzerland.

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 zones: 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) )

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 on average: Deep (81-120cm) (Soil depth is very irregular, at some places limestone rocks appear at the surface, at other places soil can be quite deep).
Soil fertility 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 (1-3%) (without / before SWC (green cover)
Soil drainage/infiltration is mostly good, at some points medium (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%
100% of the land users are average wealthy.
Off-farm income specification: This is representative for the full time winegrowers. The majority of winegrowers do winegrowing beside a regular off-farm job (partly 10-50% of income with salary from off-farm work) 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 is 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 (only winegrowing land!)

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

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

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts


crop production

Comments/ specify:

10–20% due to competition for water/nutrients

crop quality

Comments/ specify:

Quality of wine decreased when strong competition of water and nutrients happens and nothing is done against it.

risk of production failure

Comments/ specify:

Due to competition of water and nutrients and higher susceptibility to fungal decay (due to higher evapotranspiration rate with green cover and therefore humid microclimatic conditions). Little danger of frost only in depressions or plains (due to higher evapotranspiration rate)

Income and costs

farm income

Comments/ specify:

(Indirectly due to less erosion damage in the long-term – also due to subsidies related to green cover,marketing under the label of ‘ecological agricultural production’, and other criteria)


Comments/ specify:

More and specific knowledge necessary. Weeing, cutting, ripping

Other socio-economic impacts

Machine use

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

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 'out-of-place' 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 vineyard as cultural heritage. Reason: different values an norms of "how a vineyard should look like". Traditionally vines were planted very dense with no vegetation cover in between.

Ecological impacts


soil moisture

Comments/ specify:

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

soil cover


soil loss


soil compaction

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

invasive alien species

Comments/ specify:

Especially mice

pest/ disease control

Comments/ specify:

Through beneficial animals

Other ecological impacts

Soil fertility




Soil erosion through wind


6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

downstream flooding


downstream siltation

Comments/ specify:

And groundwater

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:


Long-term returns:


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


Long-term returns:


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: Nearly all of the land users have adopted green cover independently of the direct incentives received for growing vines. The spontaneous spread of green cover occurred before these incentives were tied to ‘ecological production’. Note: Swiss agriculture in general is highly subsidised (see approach).

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the land user’s view
Personal satisfaction/challenge for ecologically and economically sustainable viniculture

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Promote ecologically sustainable agriculture.
Increased exchange of knowledge and contacts in winegrowers’ associations

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Sustain/strengthen farmers’ institutions.
Improved knowledge/awareness regarding SWC/erosion: among winegrowers, but perhaps also to some extent among consumers (through ecological marketing) or walkers passing by.
Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Prevention of erosion

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Maintain green cover
Improvement of soil quality (fertility, organic matter, moisture retention, soil structure)

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Ensure that cover vegetation doesn’t compete with the vines; improve soil properties by applying mentioned agronomic measures.
Contribution to a better balanced and more stable ecosystem (with living space for a wider range of organisms)

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Specific management of cover crops (alternating treatment of inter-rows; find solutions to replace application of herbicide).
In the long-term economically beneficial because of cutting costs of restoration of soils and fertility loss after heavy erosion events.
Possibilities of farm income increase through marketing wine under the ‘vinatura’ label, certifying ecologically produced wine.

6.8 Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks of the Technology and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
General competition of water and nutrients depending on climate, soil depth and species of cover vegetation Eliminate/reduce competitive effect of cover vegetation by cutting/mulching vegetation or ripping/ploughing soil.
Application of herbicides around vines because of undesirable vegetation in proximity of vine Find alternative solutions, or minimise application of herbicides.

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

Links and modules

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