Many of us are unable to use our pets for labor. Perhaps a few of us will train the dog to fetch our newspaper from the doorstep, or will occasionally use the horse for a gallop round the property to check our fence line. Dogs certainly may earn their keep by keeping look out for the household, but it isn’t often that we get to actually go to work with our animals.
Biodynamic New Zealand Wineries
In an effort to advance sustainable farming in New Zealand, some wineries are doing just that. Well, at least, they are recruiting animal coworkers, though perhaps not always their pets. New Zealanders are known for their grit and vivacity, and they’ve taken this attribute to all manners of life, including the attempt to revolutionize the country into becoming more eco-friendly. In fact, it is their goal to become a 100% sustainable wine industry.One of their first steps has been the New Zealand falcon, the karearea. This tiny hunting bird that can fly at speeds of nearly 150 miles per hour has been on the brink of extinction for some decades. These falcons nest on the ground, and due to the infestation of imported animals like stoats and wild cats, their eggs make a regular dinner for predators. While there are a number of other native birds whose numbers are dropping, including that of the national bird, the Kiwi, there are very few species that have been given actual employment to help save them from extinction.
International falcon expert, Dr Nick Fox, considered the problem. He wanted to come up with a way to introduce native falcons back into areas inhabited by humans. As he considered this problem, he heard of another. Grape growers, particularly in the Marlbourgh region, were enduring heavy losses from a pestilence of birds who loved the ripe grapes.
Within a couple of years, it’s estimated that the grape industry lost $140 million dollars to birds. In an effort to cut down on their losses, farmers were putting up nets that trapped the birds, some of which were endangered themselves, and had died. Others had attempting spraying bird deterring chemicals on the grapes. So far, no good solution had presented itself.
In 2005 funding from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest was given to a program to reintroduce native falcons into vineyards. Dr Fox and his team designed nests that were raised from the ground, and so safe from predators, and still acceptable to the falcons. The falcons naturally took to controlling the ‘pest’ birds that were harrying the farmers vines.
It started with four birds being released to these vineyards. Shortly thereafter, another 15 were introduced. The birds began to breed, using the special nests designed by the team. The hungry chicks kept the parent falcons busy looking for food–and falcons do not eat grapes. Grape eating birds like waxeyes, blackbirds and thrushes that loved the ripening grapes were frightened away or killed by these ‘on duty’ falcons.
This worked so well in the Marlbourgh region, that Nick and the team have begun moving onto to other vineyard regions as well.
“It’s a win for the falcons, and a win for the wineries.” says Dr. Nick. Marlborough vigneron Andrew Johns agrees, stating that since he had a pair of falcons introduced into his vineyard he has noticed a big decline in the pest birds. Like all good security guards, however, the falcons themselves are rarely seen.
The Age of Tractors–Over?
But the eco-friendly efforts of New Zealand don’t stop there! A leading New Zealand winery, the Seresin Estate of Marlborough, has added to its employment roster a 22 year old horse by the name of Stewart.
While this might seem like a step backward as far as progress goes, the winery vitaculurist Colin Ross has excellent logic for doing it. Stewarts primary job is tower the sprayer up and down the rows of vines. He doesn’t spray chemicals, though–the Seresin Estate uses a natural concoction of seaweed and manure for fertilization. If plowing or tilling is needed, this is also accomplished by the one horse power plow.
Firstly, horses can accomplish these tasks just as easily as a tractor, but their comparatively light body weight does not compact the earth the way a tractor would. Secondly, a horse doesn’t need to be fueled up at a gas pump-they fuel themselves on the grass in the fields–and they naturally produce fertilizer for the vines.
All this makes horses less damaging to the environment around the vineyard, to the world in general by avoiding the use of gas and the emissions of exhaust, and of course it gives an old horse a home, rather than a one way trip to a glue factory.
“Vineyards have been around longer than tractors or chemicals,” is Ross’s opinion, “And things worked just fine then.” And considering that Seresin remains at the top of the charts in New Zealand wineries, it apparently is still working today.