Managing soil nitrate with cover crops and buffer strips in Sicilian vineyards
When soil nitrate levels are low, plants suffer nitrogen (N) deficiency but when the levels are excessive, soil nitrates can pollute surface and subsurface waters. Strategies to reduce the nitrate pollution are necessary to reach a sustainable use of resources such as soil, water and plant. Buffer strips and cover crops can contribute to the management of soil nitrates, but little is known of their effectiveness in semiarid vineyards plantations. The research was carried out in the south coast of Sicily (Italy) to evaluate nitrate trends in a vineyard managed both conventionally and using two different cover crops ( Triticum durum and Vicia sativa cover crop). A 10 m-wide buffer strip was seeded with Lolium perenne at the bottom of the vineyard. Soil nitrate was measured monthly and nitrate movement was monitored by application of a 15N tracer to a narrow strip between the bottom of vineyard and the buffer and non-buffer strips. Lolium perenne biomass yield in the buffer strips and its isotopic nitrogen content were monitored. Vicia sativa cover crop management contributed with an excess of nitrogen, and the soil management determined the nitrogen content at the buffer areas. A 6 m buffer strip reduced the nitrate by 42% with and by 46% with a 9 m buffer strip. Thanks to catch crops, farmers can manage the N content and its distribution into the soil over the year, can reduced fertilizer wastage and reduce N pollution of surface and groundwater.