Impact of mechanisation on soil loss in terraced vineyard landscapes

A. Pijl, P. Barneveld, L. Mauri, E. Borsato, S. Grigolato, P. Tarolli


Soil loss poses a threat to hilly and mountainous areas, particularly where local economies strongly depend on agricultural production. Among agricultural landscapes, vineyards are responsible for the highest erosion rates, particularly in steep-slope landscapes. The impact of vineyard mechanisation on soil loss is only marginally explored in published literature. This study provides an estimation of the annual soil loss rate by application of the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) in 24 terraced vineyards located in north-eastern Italy. Field observations showed that 13 vineyards consisted of fully mechanised fields, 5 vineyards had no form of mechanisation, while in 6 vineyards a mixture of practices was found. Soil erodibility (K factor) was derived for these practices (based on soil characteristics and varying degrees of compaction), while slope length and steepness (LS factors) were calculated from a 1-m LiDAR-based DTM, and remaining factors were based on datasets by the European Soil Data Centre. Mechanised fields showed 29% higher erosion rates than non-mechanised fields (respectively 53.9 and 69.5 t ha-1 y-1), although this is not statistically significant. Still, the direct impact of mechanisation is underestimated in this comparison, due to the predominant steep slopes in the manually cultivated fields. Furthermore, estimated soil loss from mechanised fields in addition to mechanised paths and roads is significantly higher by 37% than non-mechanised fields. This study thus offers an indication of how machinery and related soil compaction and transformation of terraces and infrastructure, increases soil loss risk.


RUSLE; erosion; mechanisation; vineyard terraces; compaction; Northeastern Italy

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