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organic agriculture, conference   2023. May 8. News

Cover crops for drought resistant soils in Tokaj wine production

The Hungarian Innovation Hub hosted fellow hub facilitators for a field walk in April, at one of the host sites, Tokaj-Hétszőlő Organic Vineyards in North-East Hungary.

About Living Interrow Innovation Hub

Tokaj-Hétszőlő are working with the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) looking at how cover crops can protect against soil degradation while increasing agrobiodiversity.

ÖMKI researchers Tamás Miglécz and László Mezőfi are experimenting with seed mixes, cultivation, and seed harvesting techniques, in order to improve soil health to counter the effects of increasingly long and harsh droughts during the summer months.

Tokaj-Hétszőlő Estate

The Tokaj region has a history of wine-making that goes back over thousand years. Tokaj-Hétszőlő has been growing on the southern slopes of Mount Tokaj since at least 1502. Between 1956 and 1989, socialist-era agro-industrialisation left the land depleted and in need of a more agroecological approach, a process that started in 1991. By 2009, the Estate began its journey to organic conversion.


Cover crops between rows of vines

Mitigating the effects of a warming climate

While this new approach breathed life back into the Estate’s 55 hectares, longer, hotter summers and less predictable rainfall have resulted in increased soil erosion and crop failures. 

“We had lots of rain from January to April [2023], so reserves of water are back in the soil”, Estate manager Gergely Makai tells the group, “But it’s proved essential to have cover crops in all rows, even while we’re still working out the best species mix. The worst thing is naked soil.”

The summer of 2022 saw some of the hottest, driest weather the region has experienced. While productivity reached an all-time low, it recovered more quickly than in neighbouring estates. Gergely puts this down, in part, to benefits brought by species-diverse cover crops – “If the soil is good, everything else follows”.

Improving biodiversity

Research is also looking at biodiversity, not only for the benefits that natural predators can bring, but also as a reaction to intense species loss in the area. Ecological islands of trees and other plants have been kept and established, bringing both wildlife and a sponge-like oasis near to and among the vines.


Ecological islands of trees and other plants

On-farm research

Both estate owners and ÖMKI scientists agree on the benefits of research in-situ. 

“It’s very important to bring our work on-farm”, says ÖMKI’s Tamás Miglécz. “Research can sometimes be too theoretical and real life doesn’t work like this”. At the same time wine makers aren’t set up to plan, maintain and analyse scientific data, “so to have ÖMKI do the intellectual lifting is useful”, agrees Gergely.

Find out more

The Living Interrow project is looking at cover crops on nine farms in Northern Hungary, across three regions (six vineyards and three apple orchards). 

See ÖMKI’s Species-Rich Interrow project page for more information, or watch this short film The importance of the inter-row cover in grape row spacing (in Hungarian only).

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