Is organic viticulture the sustainable solution?

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This is an english translation of this blog post

During a wine tour in Australia, we visited the McLaren Vale and got to see how the vine growers work with a sustainable way to cultivate vine in the  Sustainable Winegrowing Australia (SAW) program. It was very interesting and a few wise things were said. Among other things Mike Brown from Gemtree Wines noted that ”sustainability is not an option anymore” – that is to say that conventional chemical farming is not choice anymore, it’s the only way. Before I continue, just let this sink in and embrace the fact that sustainability is the only way for mankind in terms of both production and consumption. Let’s agree that the discussion ends here since there are very few who would still disagree.

So to the next question; Is organic farming the answer?

Of the world’s total area of organic farming a third is found in Europe. Despite this, just a mere 2.2% of the European agricultural area is organically certified (statistics from 2012). Although the area is steadily increasing steadily, one realizes that organic farming will not have any major impact on our environment in the foreseeable future. In many parts of Europe and the world, it is also very difficult to completely switch to organic farming as you have many different problems due to climate and so on. In McLaren Vale this has been adressed and Mike Brown noted that ”systems needs to be local. We seek no certification, but continuous improvement instead”. The growers are working on the problems and prospects they have locally and seeking and creating sustainable solutions that are outside the mainstream systems. Organic certification would only had haltered them in their work and also kept many growers from participating in the development work. This is the same idea as Michael Back of Backsberg Wines in South Africa has. They have for many years been pioneers in sustainable viticulture, but his attitude is that ”if you’re a purist you’ll close the doors to so many opportunities and choices.”

What one has to understand is that certified organic cultivation (and that is what it’s all about) is excluding. If you do not reach the full requirements or deviates at some point, your agriculture is not organic. On the other hand all the countless  organizations promoting sustainable agriculture (lutte raisonnée, agriculture durable, etc.) are inclusive. Their aim, as in McLaren Vale, is to inform, educate, support and develop methods to restrict the use of pesticides and fertilizers. This work also includes transportation, water, packaging, energy, ethics, and sometimes even social and economic sustainability. The latter two are in the longer term a prerequisite for sustainability.

Farmers, whether growing potatoes or grapes, do not want to destroy the environment in which they operate. If possible they will avoid the expensive and harmful chemicals. Through sustainability initiatives based on collaboration, education, research, legislation, and supported by easily identifiable branding we can go a long way. A great example of this is South Africa. By a national labeling of wines that guarantees both the origin and sustainable agriculture they have become pioneers. In just a couple of years 97% of producers have joined in and we can already see how the ecosystem is in balance, animals and plants are returning and water levels are rising. By relative small efforts by all they have created 1.3 ha protected natural environments per 1 ha of vineyards. This is largely done by the non-profit organization Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, where a third of wineries today are engaged. What is interesting is that despite the consistently high awareness and active environmental work among wine producers, it’s only around a handful of which are certified organic.

If a great number contributes with a small effort it gives a greater effect than if a few do a lot. To focus blindly on organic certication as the solution and see all other farming practises as ”conventional” and ”bad” serves no one except possibly the certified producers themselves. We must lift our eyes and see the big picture. This also includes our own consumption and our actions. We are all responsible.

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Kategorier: Övrigt

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