Sustainable wine growing is not clean or green enough

The Soil & Health Association is concerned that key wine industry figures are fudging the reality of herbicide use and environmental protection in Marlborough. Soil & Health recommends faster moves to organic production.

Last week Soil & Health had suggested Marlborough’s Wairau Valley was being made a ‘Herbicide Valley’ because they had identified close to 70% of Marlborough vineyard land was currently herbicide sprayed to assist in frost protection.

“In reaction to Soil & Health’s claim, both New Zealand Winegrowers Chair Stuart Smith, and Chief Executive Officer Philip Gregan, seriously down played the facts,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning. “The community deserves better.”

“It is about time New Zealand Winegrowers did some survey work, starting in the Brancott area, where the sprayed vineyard ground area appears to be up to 85% herbicide sprayed, although most areas are more typical of Soil & Health’s 70% claim.”

“Mr Gregan claimed last week that herbicide spraying throughout vineyards – for frost protection where bare earth radiated heat better – ‘was now extremely uncommon’. This is clearly not the case in Marlborough where many examples of blanket herbicide spraying are evident. Some 100% herbicided vineyards are displaying the Sustainable Wine Growing (SWG) notice although some Sustainable Wine Growing vineyards do not display the notice. Some vineyards were tilled but had been blanket herbicide sprayed ahead of that cultivation.”

Winegrowers NZ is the parent body of Sustainable Wine Growing, which was developed to provide a voluntary “best practice” model of environmental practices in the wine industry.

NZ Winegrowers chairman Stuart Smith said last week, “Whether it is 10% or 70%, the point of sustainable winegrowing is to make it sustainable so the land is left the same or better for the future. We are achieving that.”

“Soil & Health acknowledges that SWG is evolving, but permanent year round undervine spray strips and increased herbicide use in spring does not bode well now or for the future,” said Mr Browning. “Degraded soil biology and herbicide contamination and leaching do not equal the same or better, and urgent improvement is needed.”

“Sustainable Wine Growing has successfully encouraged significant change in some management practices, but fails to actually meet true environmental sustainability measures or compliance. Hopefully the next independent audit of Sustainable Wine Growers will show that more accurate spray records have been kept than those of the last published audit. It showed about a 50% discrepancy between grape growers SWG score sheets and their herbicide spray diaries. The grape industry leaders measure of current herbicide use seems to follow this discrepency.”

“Soil & Health is supportive of genuine sustainability measures and is hopeful that successful organic methods of production, which do not use herbicides, will be quickly taken up by the wine industry. Neither short or long term effects of herbicides and other sprays should be passed on to the community and environment.”

“Canopy spraying can also be managed in a way that prevents spraydrift. Enclosed spray units using shrouds or skirts that capture and collect unused spray, rather than allowing it to become airborne, should be used in areas subject to spray drift.”

“When combined with non herbicide based weed and frost control management, such technology can have Marlborough and the other grape growing regions of New Zealand meeting community health needs and the international expectations of a clean green land.”

“When comparing aesthetics, soil health, and worker and community safety, the differences between herbicide valley properties and those that use organic methods are obvious,” said Mr Browning.