A New Zealand study has indicated hemp is a viable cover crop for the country’s Sauvignon Blanc vineyards, offering several valuable benefits.
Many vineyards incorporate cover crops in the interrow (between rows of vines), providing advantages including increasing biodiversity, encouraging beneficial insects, fixing nitrogen and alleviating soil compaction. Such are the positives, these crops are rarely harvested for direct economic gain.
But it seems with hemp, Sauvignon Blanc grape growers could have their cake and eat it too.
In the feasibility study, industrial hemp seeds were sown in the midrow of a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in Marlborough, New Zealand to investigate the impacts as a cover crop/intercrop on the vines and the vineyard soil. Even in what was an exceptionally dry season that saw other cover crops failing to thrive, hemp became established without supplemental irrigation.
The three-year study found using hemp as a cover crop reduced soil compaction and added valuable organic matter without negatively impacting the vines in any way. The hemp plants grew large roots and were able to grow in compacted tractor wheel tracks in the row. Furthermore, wines produced from these vines was of better quality compared with a wine not grown alongside hemp.
“Juice/must samples from the 2019 harvest showed a higher diversity of yeast species from the hemp area than the control, and produced a perceptibly better wine,” state the study authors, Mark Krasnow from Thoughtful Viticulture Ltd and Kirsty Harkness of Hark & Zander Ltd.
Additionally, hemp can provide another income stream for vineyard owners – and it can be harvested before grapes.
Another interesting finding was bees from hives near the hemp collected much more pollen than hives located elsewhere on the property. It’s already been well established that bees love hemp.
The trial wasn’t all smooth sailing – a poor strike in the 2020-21 season made it clear sourcing quality seed from reputable vendors is “absolutely critical” to growth success. But overall, it’s looking like hemp is a cover crop vineyard owners should give serious consideration.
“The findings that hemp plants in the vineyard did not negatively affect the vines, but beneficially affected soils and wines, is very exciting and warrants further study,” state the researchers.
The full study report can be viewed here.
The plant’s use as a cover crop is just one of the many agricultural uses for hemp.