In the face of the environmental crisis, the need to protect our soils for future generations is more urgent than ever. We’ve partnered with the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation to take the first steps in safeguarding this precious resource. Adam Holden tells us more about this radical approach to rethinking agriculture
A widespread appreciation of the essential role which fungi play in healthy ecosystems may be quite a recent development, but happily, it is gathering momentum. The wealth and complexity of life in soil is mind-boggling. In the Order of Merit, fungi probably get the Lifetime Achievement Award, but they would be sure to call out the entire cast and crew in their acceptance speech. A teaspoon of healthy soil can contain more individual organisms than there are humans on earth, and we understand less about this vast but hidden web of life than we do about the solar system. It’s hard to protect something you don’t understand.
Franklin D. Roosevelt famously wrote “the nation that destroys its soil destroys itself” in response to the dustbowl crisis of the 1930s, during which precious but depleted topsoil was turned to dust, whipped up and dispersed by the wind, with disastrous consequences. Today around 70% of the world’s soils are biologically depleted, and 40% of these depleted soils are considered dead. A successful future doesn’t look like this. It’s time for a rethink.
Indigenous cultures have adopted agricultural systems and philosophies which support, or work in harmony, with nature throughout human history. It is nothing new. But more recently, concepts of organic and biodynamic agriculture have become familiar to us. “Permaculture” and “conservation agriculture” may ring more distant bells. Many think it could provide a solution to heal our soils while still maintaining food production.
In many ways, what we know as “conventional agriculture” could be seen as a form of mining. Soil holds nutrients which, combined with sun and water, turn seeds into crops. These crops are then harvested, in essence taking these nutrients with them. We can continue to achieve a crop or increase yields by adding synthetic fertiliser to the soil to make up for this loss. But this only serves to further deplete its natural balance, until the soil eventually turns to dirt. The fundamental principle of regenerative agriculture is adding, rather than removing. The approach employs methods which seek to continually add more life and nutrients to the soil. This brings a huge range of benefits, not least that synthetic inputs can be reduced or even eliminated.
It would be easy to dismiss “RegenAg” as just another label, set of restrictions, or prescriptions. But critically this is an outcome-based system where success can be measured by increasing biodiversity and organic carbon in soil as well as the health of the wider ecosystem. Its methods are not a dogmatic system so much as a toolkit which can be drawn on according to individual conditions. The same principles can be applied to vineyards. At Berry Bros. & Rudd, we are fortunate to be working with producers who are already using these methods; they also go hand-in-hand with making great wine.
To show our commitment to these nature-beneficial practices, Berry Bros. & Rudd has entered a collaboration with the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation to help build scientific research and knowledge. Believing that viticulture can be a small part of the solution for a healthier planet, we hope to play our part in advocating for this approach globally, to protect one of our most precious resources for generations to come.
For more information on regenerative viticulture, visit regenerativeviticulture.org