July 5th, 2008
While sheep have been used to “mow” and upkeep vineyards and orchards in other areas of the country and world, no vineyards in the Midwest – where the high amounts of rain and humidity make weed control a constant challenge – have incorporated sheep into their management practices.
“The goal of our project is to improve how we manage cover crop both under and between the rows of vines,” said Colleen Gerke, owner of Jowler Creek Winery. “If the incorporation of babydoll sheep into our vineyard management plan is proven economical and viable, other vineyards may be more inclined to adopt this – as well as other sustainable practices – in their operation.”
The sheep weed control system will be studied in 2.5 acres of the six-acre vineyard where erosion is a challenge and the most mature vines are located.
The conventional methods of weed and cover crop control will continue to be executed in the remaining 3.5 acres of the vineyard.
Jowler Creek’s managers will compare the amount of herbicides applied, loss of soil, fossil fuels consumed, weed species and overall soil fertility between the two plots to measure the success of the project.
Jowler Creek’s grant titled “Improving Vineyard Grass and Weed Control Through the Incorporation of Babydoll Sheep” was one of 50 out of 130 proposals recommended for funding.
Grant proposals submitted to NCR-SARE were reviewed by a 28-person review committee which included farmers and ranchers, educators, and researchers, as well as members of the NCR-SARE Administrative Council.