Towards More Sustainable Viticulture
Today I’m offering to your attention a guest post which is a bit unusual for this blog – it is a lot more technical then we usually get here, on the pages of Talk-a-Vino. This blog post is written by Urška Krajnc (email: firstname.lastname@example.org), Business developer of eVineyard, a vineyard management solution (and an App), helping viticulturists to grow better grapes. Hope you will find it interesting. Your comments and questions are definitely encouraged. Enjoy!
Agricultural production is one of the most important economic activities on Earth. The majority of human food originates from land, which must perform over time in a consistent manner and produce huge quantities of output. To meet the demands of the world’s growing population, farmers have to increase crop production and availability of food. This is nowadays achieved through the standardization of crops, genetic changes of plants, growth hormones and excessive use of pesticides. Many argue that changes in agricultural production are not going into the right direction. Therefore initiatives for more economical, environmentally and socially sustainable agriculture have emerged.
An important problem of the agriculture production are pesticides, which have negative impact on human health and environmental pollution. While inappropriate use of pesticides is literally directly threatening human lives in certain (usually less developed) areas of the world, it also counts for many indirect harmful effects on human health, ecosystem changes, etc. Pesticide spraying, for example, has a huge impact on the bee population in the country-side, while bees are the main pollinators of certain species of plants. In certain areas, the bee population has reduced by as impressive amounts as 30%. All this is leading to large environmental imbalances – as the pollination reduces, the flora will not flourish as it should anymore, and soon fauna will follow. And we’re a very part of that, even though we may not see it.
Similar story exists with water organisms, which are being killed by the over-usage of pesticides, drifted from the spray targets to the water flows. Pesticides affect human health also through the residues left in food, that can be toxic to humans. Grapes are believed to be among fruits with the highest level of pesticide residues. Not only in table grapes, but also in wine, several pesticides can be found, especially when the conventional production methods of wine are followed. Therefore in certain regions of the world, more sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural production methods have developed to a larger extent. Alternative methods for large-scale growing are becoming feasible through the latest technology. The fact is that the food production needs optimization, and research has shown that an optimization can be only achieved if the resources that farmers use, are applied in a knowledgeable way.
Some of the countries are already taking steps towards the reduction of pesticides usage. France, for example, decided to reduce the amount of pesticide spraying by 50% in the time between 2008 and 2018. But even though there are national directives, and common sense leading more and more people to move away from pesticides, there are still situations where spraying is seen as necessary – and maybe in some cases it actually is, in order to avoid larger pollution later on, and to sustain the production that feeds our world today. However, a French winegrower from Burgundy probably wouldn’t agree, and would rather go to jail for a few weeks than to spray his grapevines with a pesticide that would consequently poison his soil for the generations to come. Even more, the first real cases against the corporations providing pesticides, are starting, as some people die of cancer which was clearly the consequence of long-term pesticide usage.
The fact is that some of the pesticides are originating from military chemicals and the vast majority of them includes synthetically originated chemical compounds, developed to kill certain pests. Even here, the things are changing through the development of the natural fungicides, which don’t harm non-target pests, but work on fungus. Big steps were done also by science in predicting the disease outbreaks according to the environmental conditions, and using those predictions to spray selectively in order to prevent the diseases at the optimal time, instead of routine spraying. This scientific research is nowadays manifesting in practice through cost-effective solutions, based on sensors and data about the weather, and is targeted at the crops which are classically produced with large amounts of pesticides, like grapes.
Several wine producing countries – France, Spain and Italy under the EU agricultural policy, as well as Australia and United States of America, are systematically reducing the use of pesticides on grapevines for the last 15 years. The practical measures are taken to reduce pesticide residues and environmental pollution via usage restrictions of several dangerous pesticides and introduction of Integrated Pest Management approach. This approach has proven to reduce pesticides residues not only in wine, but also in the other agricultural products. Australian winegrowers have reduced the usage of pesticides through the use of technological solutions for strategic spray timing and through the use of more naturally produced pesticides. In the United States of America, the reduction of pollution is achieved through banning of several harmful pesticides and through the introduction of sustainable wine-growing practices, supported with the sensors and information technology, used to optimize other processes, such as irrigation. Similar practices are used throughout the Europe, which has seen a big increase in pesticide use in post World War II time, which is now decreasing.
In many European countries, the “Denomination of Origin” policies don’t allow irrigation and some other kinds of terroir manipulation in order to get the “DO” sign. But systems for smarter plant protection are always welcome and are already in place in most of the countries by big growers, with the adoption of technology now being done by smaller growers as well. Some winegrowers around the world went even a step further and applied organic wine production principals, due to the changes in market demands, led by the conscious consumers. In EU, 6.6% of the grape-growing area is treated as organic, from which one third of organic grape-growing area is in Spain. Unfortunately, on the other side of the world, in China, with rapidly growing grape production, a production and usage of pesticides is increasing.
A lot of solutions exist – we can spray very selectively by using sensors and computers that take into account the existent knowledge. We can completely avoid spraying in some cases, and in the other cases, we may use the natural fungicides that don’t harm the organisms, which were not targeted as harmful, like bees. It will take some time for all those solutions to become mainstream, but some parts of the world are already moving in that direction. It’s our, humanity’s, turn, to make healthy and sustainable future a reality. We’re not left with many other options anyway.