Sustainability outcomes of integrated sheep vineyards systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $347,696.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Host Institution Award ID: G306-23-W9981
Grant Recipients: University of California, Davis; Ecdysis Foundation; Community Alliance with Family Farmers; Napa County Resource Conservation District
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Amelie Gaudin
University of California, Davis
Dr. Elisabeth Forrestel
UC Davis Viticulture and Enology
Dr. Brittney K Goodrich
Cooperative Extension at the University of California, Davis
Dr. Jonathan Lundgren
Ecdysis Foundation


  • Fruits: grapes


  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Vineyard producers are rapidly adopting regenerative production models to address sustainability challenges arising from input based conventional production. Integrating livestock onto cropland is a key practice in regenerative agriculture, providing opportunities to meet sustainability goals by building soil health, reducing input and labor costs while creating new markets and added value1–5 . Integrated sheep vineyard systems (ISVS) are gaining traction in the coastal regions. However, the lack of systems level data from working farms and knowledge sharing platforms for producers integrating grazing across a co-management gradient (conventional-regenerative) limits our understanding of best management guidelines, as well as the full scope of the potential benefits and tradeoffs associated with ISVS 6,7. With grape systems in California approaching 1M acres (CA’s third highest grossing crop), the need for sustainability impact assessments, best management practices (BMP) guidelines and economic return planning tools for integrated systems is growing. California is also confronting decline in forage with the current drought and vineyards’ understories represent an increasingly important source of forage. The proposed 3-yr study is based on extensive consultation with growers, sheep operators, and previous work by the team to provide a systems level comparison of ISVS practicing winter season grazing (ISVS_WG), winter and summer season grazing (ISVS_WSG) and non-grazed vineyard systems (NG). Our objectives are to 1) establish a landscape scale on-farm participatory research platform to 2) quantify the impacts of grazing and grazing intensities on vineyard soil health, biodiversity, vine health, yields, berry quality, forage quality and input use. This data, along with farmers interview will be used to 3) analyze the economic performance of these viticulture systems and develop a cost-return planning tool. We will 4) identify benefits and potential tradeoffs by evaluating interactions between the chemical, physical, biological, and economic components of vineyards and 5) disseminate results to producers in English and Spanish via field days, presentations, a BMP guide, and social media. The recently published report on Nature based Climate Solutions (NbCS)8 emphasizes the critical need for studies such as these that engage in on-farm research investigating the stacking of sustainable farming practices, while considering the inherent variability of landscapes, soils, resource availability and production goals. Our network of commercial vineyards will consist of vineyards with medium to long term grazing legacies (+3 years minimum) to vineyards with no history of grazing. This diverse network will facilitate the collection of real-world information on management strategies, input use, soil health and crop yield outcomes as a function of edaphoclimatic conditions underlying potential benefits and tradeoffs 8. By providing empirical assessments of integrated systems across the three pillars of sustainability, we hope to improve the profitability and natural resource base of vineyards and grazing operations, while increasing the quality of life in farming communities.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objectives

    Obj. 1: Establish a participatory research network across California comprised of 45 commercial vineyards with current management legacies along a grazing gradient: Non-Grazed (NG), Integrated Sheep Vineyard Systems (ISVS) with Winter Grazing (ISVS_WG) and extended Winter and Summer Grazing (ISVS_WSG) (n = 15 per treatment over the 3-yr study).

    Obj. 2: Measure the impacts of grazing intensities and co-management practices on vineyard soil health, species biodiversity, vine health/nutrition, yield, berry quality, and input and labor use.

    Obj. 3: Determine the economic performance of ISVS and conventional viticulture systems.

    Obj. 4:  Integrate socio ecological and economic outcomes to identify the benefits and tradeoffs of grazing vineyard understories and inform the development of best management practices.

    Outreach Objectives

    Obj. 1: Create a Best Management Practice (BMP) guide in English and Spanish synthesizing grower knowledge and research results.

    Obj 2: Generate a cost-return planning tool to assist producers seeking to integrate grazing into their operations. 

    Obj. 3: Share project results and best management practice guidelines to a minimum of 150 producers via 3 in-person on-farm field days and 3 workshops. The effects of ISVS on soil health, biodiversity, yield and grape quality and cost and expected returns will be presented.  The benefits of sheep for meat and fiber markets, as well as ecosystems benefits, such as fire load management will be included.

    Obj. 4:  Disseminate research results, field day demonstrations, workshops, our BMP guide, and the cost-return tool to an extended audience using podcast interviews, industry publications, Facebook live streams, twitter, and other social media outlets handled by the team’s outreach specialists.

    Obj. 5: Produce 3 academic journal articles and present findings at local and national conferences.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.