We studied the effect of soil cover (bare soil, mulch of barks or composted organic materials, grass cover) on soil N dynamics in various experimental vineyards located in Champagne area (France). Soil cores were sampled periodically to measure water and mineral N in soil profile during autumn and winter. These measurements were used in a simple dynamic model (LIXIM) to calculate nitrate leaching and N mineralization. N mineralization potential of soils were also determined in laboratory incubations in controlled conditions. In most sites, soil inorganic N contents (0-75 cm) varied between 20 and 60 kg N ha-1, depending of the season. Soil inorganic N in plots receiving barks or composted barks or covered with grass did not differ significantly from control plots. Higher amounts of inorganic N were found in soils amended with refuse compost, peat or mixed compost (barks + farmyard manure) or composted farmyard manure. The model indicated that N leached varied from 8 to 77 kg N ha-1 and that the mean nitrate concentration in drained water was less than 50 mg NO3- L-1 except for plots receiving refuse compost or bark + farmyard manure compost. The calculated N mineralization varied from 9 to 45 kg N ha-1 over the autumn-winter period, i.e. 118 to 182 days. The N mineralization rate (Vp), expressed per 'normalised day' i.e. day at 15°C and field capacity, varied from 0.15 to 0.82 kg N ha-1 nd-1, including all sites and experimental treatments. Effect of organic matter addition on Vp was only observed for long-term experimental sites where large amounts of organic nitrogen had been added to soil using peat, refuse compost or compost mixtures with barks and farmyard manure. The Vp values measured in laboratory incubations showed the same trends and were in the same order of magnitude than those calculated with LIXIM model using in situ data. In average, the values measured in laboratory incubations underestimated the actual N mineralization in field conditions. The model was used to predict N mineralization and inorganic N in soil during the vegetative period using Vp values. It allowed to estimate the N uptake by vine: 10 ± 5 kg N ha-1 at flowering and 57 ± 5 kg N ha-1 over the whole growing period. These results show that soil N availability was sufficient to feed the vine during the whole growing period and that no inorganic N fertilisation was necessary, even in the grass covered soil. In this soil, water availability is probably the limiting factor when depressive effects are observed. On the long-term, it is necessary to manage the amount and quality of added organic matter since organic inputs may modify N availability and therefore vine behaviour, wine quality and environmental risks.
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