Vineyards, sheep and ecosystem health

Regenerative agriculture, whose basis is soil health, avoids tillage, diversifies crops, switches from annual to perennial varieties when possible, uses cover crops, incorporates animals, and incorporates productive trees. It achieves impressive results to varying degrees: biological diversity, human and animal health, plant vigor and pollinator viability. Instead of producing greenhouse gases (a sixth of global emissions come from the agricultural sector), it sequesters carbon. Increasingly, farmers are switching to regenerative practices to retain more water in their soils, reduce costs, stop erosion and get out of debt.

An innovative and promising example of regenerative agriculture is the 7,600-acre Paicines Ranch in San Benito County, California. In just one small corner of the ranch, a 25-acre organic demonstration vineyard was planted in 2017. It features native perennial grasses and sheep. The goal is to fight climate change by sequestering carbon, minimizing water consumption and increasing healthy mycorrhizal fungi in the soil while producing fruit to produce exceptional wine.

An increasing number of winegrowers have stopped tillage to control weeds; plowing exposes bare earth, releasing carbon into the atmosphere while heating and drying the soil. Many even bring in animals to control grasses and weeds and as a natural source of fertilizer, but only after the grapes are harvested. The Paicines Ranch allows sheep among the vines even during the growing season. This practice is normally avoided as sheep can eat leaves, buds and grapes.

To counter this risk, the owners have designed the Paicines vineyard to have animals among the vines. Instead of trellising the vines on wires near the ground within reach of grazers, their vines are trellised on taller trellises out of reach of sheep. The extra energy plants need to push sap higher is more than provided by healthier soil. Another slightly older vineyard in the Alexander Valley in Northern California, following similar practices with integrated animals, saw a 98% reduction in irrigation use as well as significantly higher yields.

The first wine from the young Paicines vineyard is showing encouraging results. Some critics were impressed by the complexity of vines only four years old. The quality of the wine is key in drawing attention to their unconventional farming methods.

Perhaps most importantly, improved soil health and moisture retention through regenerative agriculture provides more resilience that farmers will need to cope with more rainfall and drought patterns. more unstable. Industrial agriculture and overgrazing have increased heat, parched land and increased surface temperatures. Regenerative agriculture cools its surroundings. Records show surface temperatures can be 2 degrees Fahrenheit lower. Soil temperature can be several degrees lower than bare soil.

The carbon capture potential of regenerative agriculture is underestimated. The amount of retention is not fully known. A farm in Carroll, Ohio had less than 0.5% carbon in its soil in 1978; today, this regenerative farm contains 8.5% carbon. Most regenerative farms aren’t even tested.

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