Organic Viticulture & the Riverland
I have long been very unsure of the actual benefits of organic farming when it comes to growing wine grapes. Maybe this view has been driven by a lack of knowledge or the the extreme ‘left wing’ views of some caught up in organic farming which has put me off becoming an organic farmer.
But after some serious thought it soon became apparent that my current farming practices were not all that different to what was undertaken by those growers growing organic grapes. My fungicide programs were the same (sulphur and copper). I was mainly using chicken & cow manure over synthetic fertilisers, so my approach to feeding my vineyard was on the same lines as organic farming.
Weeds were my issue! But this could be overcome with some slight modifications! Firstly I had to change my views on how the vineyard looked! A few weeds were fine and, if anything, it was a sign of good soil health. Secondly, it was fine to cultivate as long as the cultivation was done under the right conditions. So realistically I could control weeds without using chemicals. Also the development of some new organic herbicides provided some hope for the hard to kill weeds…….my herbicide unit still had a use!!
So what was the real difference between how I was currently farming and what my organic neighbours were doing? I could see that the difference in crop levels were minor (maybe a slight advantage to non-organic). The real difference was they were not growing a commodity crop and therefore were able to demand a high price for what they grew! The price for Chardonnay will be between $150 – $250/t for the 2015 vintage (Riverland prices). Organically grown Chardonnay in the same region will receive up to $800/t. This is prime evidence that organically grown grapes has a value where as non-organic grapes are basically commodity products.
The other difference is access to markets and market opportunities. The recent article (see below) suggests that countries with growing food safety concerns will look towards safer farming practices and to countries with strong food safety legislation. Australia is in a good position to meet these opportunities.
So is this a game changer for the Riverland? I think it is but it will be a slow change because of the current poor state of the industry! The Riverland has climatic conditions that are perfectly suited for growing organic grapes. The dry climate leads to very little pest or disease pressure, meaning diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew can easily be controlled with suphur and copper. My observations suggested (based on my travels around the world) that the Riverland would be one of the best viticulture climates on the globe to grow and produce organic wine.
The question could be asked…….’why has this opportunity not been grabbed by the neck and turned into a game changer?’. There are many reasons, such as a lack of leadership, a lack of money, a lack of ability and a lack of knowledge. For those who have seen or are about to see the opportunities the future could not be brighter!
Ricca Terra Farms has recently joined forces with the Bassham Family Vineyards, who are the largest organic grape growers in the Riverland. This joint venture provides Ricca Terra Farms with a number of new marketing opportunities that will strengthen its financial, environmental and quality performance. Not only will the area of organic vineyards increase under the Ricca Terra Farms’ brand, but organic farming will complement Ricca Terra Farms’ position as one of the largest growers of alternative grape varieties in Australia.
When we say Ricca Terra Farms is ‘Viticulture with Vision’……..we mean it!