It’s not surprising that vines need water to survive. They are good at finding water through their roots, and often go deep to extract moisture from the soil or rock.

Indeed, the vine is a structural parasite. Instead of growing their own stems when left to their own devices, vines climb trees and other plants to reach the light in the canopy. Similarly, the root systems of the vine have established themselves in difficult soils that are often already inhabited by other thirsty plants. Given the depth they reach to get to the water, the vines are also quite resistant to drought.

Historically, many revered European vineyards in places like Bordeaux and Barolo have dry irrigated vineyards that should not be irrigated. In regions with a so-called Mediterranean climate, the summers are generally hot, dry and little rainy.

In these areas there are many old vineyards with widely spaced vines that are not supported by trellises. It is known as a chalice or shrub and is ideal for dry, sunny climates. This limits the vine’s vigor because a larger canopy requires more water. It provides enough light and air, but still offers shade so the grapes don’t catch fire in the sun. The greater distance between vines allows each vine to develop an extensive root network to find the available moisture.

When annual precipitation is less than 20 inches, growers generally need a little more water / Getty

In recent years, many vineyards that used to use this type of growing system have switched to irrigation, where allowed. And in areas where there just isn’t enough rain to support vine growth, irrigation has always been the norm.

How much water does a vine need? When annual precipitation is less than 20 inches, farmers generally need additional water. However, it all depends on the rainy season (winter or growing season) and the ability of the soil to retain moisture. Clay, lime and organic matter help.

In some wine circles, the question is raised whether irrigation leads to a loss of quality or expression of the terroir. For some, dry farming is synonymous with quality.

One of the most notable irrigation methods is found in Mendoza, Argentina, in the high desert, where it rains less than eight inches a year. Agriculture here is based on a series of beautifully constructed irrigation canals that are hundreds of years old and reuse meltwater from the Andes. The method simulates precipitation, with peaks of large amounts of water followed by dry periods, but requires large amounts of water.

Another option for vineyard irrigation is the strategic placement of overhead sprinklers. It’s not a very efficient use of water either, but they can simulate rain. One potential problem is that this method wets the leaves, which can increase the risk of plant diseases.

Aerial sprinkler system Strategically placed on Okanagan/Getty Valley Vineyards in Canada.

The most common form of irrigation is drip irrigation, which delivers the desired amount of water specifically to the roots of each vine. It is an efficient use of water, but it can only stimulate root growth where droplets accumulate. Little and frequent irrigation leads to a reduction in the active root zone, which prevents the vine roots from fully utilizing the soil. Therefore, some recommend only infrequent irrigation, but in large areas to wet the broader soil profile.

Another factor to consider is the rate of evaporation, i.e. the amount of water lost by the vine as it drains. Plants face a dilemma. They open pores in the leaves, called stomata, to capture carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. They lose water in the process. So do the math. If they lose too much water due to heat, wind or drought, they may close their lems. Vines on open drainage soils in a warm, windy area need more water to survive.

Irrigation is so widely accepted that in areas where it is not used, the term dry cultivation is sometimes used as a distinguishing feature. In some wine circles, the question is raised whether irrigation leads to a loss of quality or expression of the terroir. For some, dry farming is synonymous with quality.

Vines are generally reasonably drought tolerant / Getty

Why is irrigation controversial? In some regions it is impossible to grow vines without it. Unfortunately, greedy farmers who have access to water can produce more lower quality crops through irrigation. Therefore, this practice is prohibited in some conventional areas, although additional water may be required in very dry years.

But there are ways to irrigate intelligently to produce quality grapes. Red varieties may benefit from a reduced water supply after the portico, when berries are discolored and beginning the final ripening phase. The drying roots signal the rest of the plant for abscisic acid, a hormone, and the vine concentrates its resources on ripening the grapes.

In addition, a regulated irrigation deficit that limits vine access to irrigation water has the dual benefit of conserving water and improving grape quality, especially for red varieties.

It has been proven that the best vineyards provide such a water shortage at the right time. Therefore, dry cultivation is sometimes used as a badge of honor. It is likely that in some situations lower yields of better quality grapes can be produced. But it would be unfair to think that irrigation is always worse. It is an instrument, and like any instrument, it can be used well or badly.

frequently asked questions

What is agriculture and irrigation on dry land?

Dryland farming, also known as dryland farming, is the cultivation of plants without irrigation in areas where humidity is limited, usually less than 50 inches of precipitation per year. … Humidity control during cultivation consists mainly of weed control and prevention of runoff.

How does dryland farming differ from irrigated farming?

Answer: Farming on dry land is entirely dependent on rainfall, and when it is irregular, the farmer can suffer. In arid areas the farmer has only one growing season, whereas in irrigated agriculture he can grow all year round.

What is meant by keeping dry?

Dryland farming is the cultivation of plants in areas where the annual rainfall is less than 750 mm. Yield losses are usually due to prolonged drought during the growing season. These are dry areas with a growing season (period with sufficient soil moisture) of less than 75 days.

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