Vintners and growers of wine grapes are being alerted to sustainability practices that will give them the greatest bang for their buck.
“It’s a system level of looking at things,” says sustainability consultant Joe Browde, who explains that taking a more holistic approach can have payoffs in multiple areas.
He cites the example of modifying pesticide applications in ways that have added advantages beyond reducing pesticide use and cost. That can result in better air quality, better water quality, fewer emissions of greenhouse gases, and fewer passes across the field, for example.
Browde spoke at an educational field day at Sanger, sponsored by the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers Association.
He is no stranger to the concept of sustainability, having been among pioneers in the certification program for the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, which had its beginnings about 15 years ago. He was also among those who initiated sustainability in California’s almond industry. Others who have adopted similar programs include the cut flower industry, hazelnut producers, and growers of strawberries.
TARGETED EDUCATION CAMPAIGN
The winegrowing alliance has launched a “targeted education” campaign to pinpoint particularly high impact practices that are the most economically worthwhile. There are 49 such vineyard practices, and 27 winery practices.
Some practices are relevant to both vineyard and winery operations, such as handling of materials and neighbors, and community relations. The prioritized practices were identified through funding from a grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Browde discussed the “Triple Es” that comprise the bottom line for growers — economics, the environment, and social equity. Practices that show results in all three areas were prioritized. Some of the tools outlined can be found at https://bit.ly/2r1xtOU
The wine grape industry is well aware of problematic air emissions, such as small or respirable particulate matter (extremely small particles and liquid droplets), ozone precursors such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, along with greenhouse gases that include carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.
Among concerns is “ground-level ozone,” a gas formed by photochemical reactions involving nitrous oxides and volatile organic compounds. Nitrous oxide primarily comes from nitrogen fertilizer use, while release of carbon dioxide is primarily from combustion of fossil fuels.
On the plus side for the industry, Browde says, is its role in carbon sequestration. “Our vines capture a lot of carbon,” he notes, adding that still more could be captured in cover crops, by practicing no or minimum tillage, and by using organic additives such as green manure, compost, prunings, and winery waste.
High value pest management practices that can cut air emissions include reducing equipment passes through use of effective biological and cultural tactics, tolerance of non-economic pest levels, and combining operations into a single pass. This can reduce particulate matter, ozone precursors and greenhouse gases.
Another way to lessen impacts, Browde says, is to identify areas of a vineyard where a pest problem may be particularly acute and hone in on that area only with pesticide applications.
High value pest management criteria directly relevant to air quality include monitoring for insect and mite pests; arriving at economic thresholds and pest-natural enemy ratios for leafhoppers, mites and thrips; minimizing risks from insecticides and miticides; dust abatement in and around vineyards for mite management; mealybug management; sprayer calibration and maintenance; and weed management.
Ways to reduce problematic air emissions include relying on biological and cultural tactics that can minimize pesticide use. Those include canopy management and use of cover crops, hedgerows, or insectaries that promote natural enemies and compete with weeds.
Other practices for air protection include watering and using anti-dust materials on unpaved surfaces, along with restricting speeds and travel. Anti-dust materials can include gravel, chips, paving, and seeding.
Other air protection steps include minimizing company and employee travel and reducing vehicle idling time.
Asked why nighttime farming is considered a high value practice, Browde replied that humidity is higher at night, and less dust is created. Also, ozone formation is reduced due to the absence of sunlight.
“I know you really have to think about this sometimes,” he says, “but it really emphasizes the underlying effect of the systems level of looking at things. It makes it challenging, but it’s often beyond the obvious.”