Regulated deficit irrigation, new recommendations for grape cultivation

The inland areas of the Pacific Northwest, where rainfall averages only 4 to 12 inches per year, present growing challenges for vineyard owners and wine grape producers. The arid conditions in this part of the country have not been conducive for vineyard owners who produce and market high-quality wine grapes. To promote healthy grape production when nature fails to deliver, vineyard managers in the area typically employ an irrigation practice known as “regulated deficit irrigation”. More than 60% of the wine grapes in the state of Washington are grown using this drip irrigation method. Unfortunately, the current irrigation methods are replete with problems that can cause over-irrigation and compromised grape quality.

Recently, researchers at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center completed a study that should provide vineyard managers new techniques for producing healthy and long-lasting grape crops. Joan R. Davenport was the lead author of the study published in the February 2008 issue of HortScience. Explaining the impetus behind the research, Davenport said: “Most of these vineyards use drip irrigation to supply supplemental water. Soil moisture is often measured to determine when to apply irrigation. However, without knowing the pattern of moisture under these conditions, the best place to check soil moisture content to mimic what the plant root sees was not understood. Our objective was to establish the soil moisture zone in this system.”

For the industry, knowing where to monitor soil moisture to best reflect plant-available water means that there is less chance of stressing the vines by under-watering. Not only can this adversely affect fruit yield, it also has the potential to reduce plant cold-hardiness, making the plants more likely to suffer from winter injury, which leads to vine death in the area on average every 10 years. Find full article here


Brian Charles Clark said...

It's great to see that Science Today picked up this story. We originally reported on this back in February in Washington State University's viticulture and enology newsletter, Voice of the Vine. In a related story, Davenport's colleague Markus Keller, in collaboration with his graduate student Marco Biondi, discovered that late-season irrigation doesn't reduce Brix; this finding is contrary to a long-held viticultural myth. Both stories are in the Voice of the Vine archive at

John said...

Hello Brian, nice to see your comment and suggestion for further reading. I have seen the story long back, but there was another article about it last week and so I thought it would be worth to mention it here. I have a craving for ag news more than anything.

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