HMI Program Manager, Peggy Cole, filed this report on our most recent learning event.
We started the day explaining the mission of HMI and then Levi Glenn, the viticulturist at Tablas Creek Vineyard gave a quick overview of the certified organic production process he uses where sheep trim and fertilize between the rows in the non-growing season. Levi said that while the sheep pose some management challenges, the benefits make it well worthwhile.
Rob Rutherford, a sheep specialist, retired professor, and Holistic Management Certified Educator explained the guiding principles of Holistic Management:
- The living world functions as wholes – not parts.
- Environments are different – the distinction between brittle and non-brittle environments.
- Keep a broad perspective on the predator-prey relationship.
- Plan grazing from the standpoint of a plant. Timing is the critical piece.
Rob also introduced the ideas of Simon Sinek: Basically that top production comes from deeply understanding why you do what you do, which then gives rise to the how you do it and finally gets to the result of the process and production.
Levi invited a couple of his neighbors, who also use holistic grazing in their vineyards, to join a panel moderated by former Cal Poly lecturer and vineyard manager, Craig Macmillan. Chris Behr of Oso Libre Winery showed a fun set of slides depicting his sustainable practices such as wind and solar power, electric vehicles and the sheep, cattle and chickens that tend his vineyard. Laird Foshay showed slides of his 1500-acre cattle and sheep ranch that surrounds his vineyard and of his partnership with J&R Meats and their mobile harvest unit, a slaughterhouse on wheels.
After the presentations we had a lively panel discussion where our panelist and attendees talked about areas influencing management choices, when to change course if things aren’t working and nuggets of wisdom to share with others who are considering grazing in their vineyard.
Before lunch, Holistic Management Certified Educator, Kelly Mulville shared his experience with extending the grazing period in vineyards in both the US and Australia. His presentation shows impressive data that irrigation use was decreased by 90% and yield increased by 1,245 pounds per acre and the cost-of-farming savings about $400 per acre per year. These studies were done during drought. The grazing animals were trained with electric fencing not to eat the grape vines. The fences were set higher for easier picking and training of the livestock. This training allowed the planned grazing to take place year-round. For a copy of Kelly’s handout, Click Here.
Rob and Kelly teamed up to illustrate the Holistic Management decision-making process with a dilemma faced by a wine grower: too much vegetation between the rows after bud break. Other participants’ furnished possible solutions like mowing, spraying, tilling, letting it grow. We chose to test tilling by answering the testing questions (for the testing questions and how best to use them go to the free downloads section of our website and download the Introduction to Holistic Management.
During a delicious lunch that included organic lamb and Tablas Creek Vineyards wine, Laird Foshay explained the usefulness of her mobile harvest unit and her experiences with sheep and cattle grazing in the vineyard.
After lunch, we took a tour, passing by the rootstock operation. Levi explained that the vineyard used to do all its own reproduction processes for the rootstock and ship it all over the world. Now they farm that out to specialists so they can concentrate on growing grapes and making wine. We stopped at the shed where compost tea is made in a special vat then transferred to a trailer for spraying on the vineyard.
At the sheep pasture, we observed the guardian alpacas and donkeys as the strolled up to visit. The sheep are dorper crossed on katahdin. They are not too wooly, mild tasting and hardy.
After the tour we divided into three groups in three different areas of the vineyard. Each person was handed an ecosystem evaluation form to grade the effectiveness of each of the 4 basic ecosystem processes:
- Water cycle
- Mineral cycle
- Energy Flow
- Biological Community
Using the questions on the form, the groups discussed the processes as well as management paradigms, possible innovations and speculated on what would work and not work in viticulture.
Heading back inside, Rob asked the groups to share their observations on the various spots we looked at. Though it doesn’t carry the burden of having to produce anything for humans, an uncultivated weed patch came out best.
The groups broke out again, this time to come up with some sort of simple monitoring protocol that could be used to keep an eye on a vineyard and be alerted quickly if its ecosystem processes fail to function effectively. Each group listed both simple and complex criteria as they took the time to really think about what information would act as the earliest warning that change needs to happen.
Rob wrapped up the day with a Q&A session and a few minutes spent evaluating the day both on forms and orally.
Here’s a photo essay of the day’s events. Just hover over each picture to see the caption…
[flgallery id=6 /]
The evaluations yielded the following results:
|Would you recommend this event to others?||100%|
|Did you expand your learning network of people and resources||100%|
|Do you intend to change any management practices/apply ideas you learned in this event?||94%|
|Do you intend to pursue biological monitoring on your land as a result of today's event?||73%|
|Are you more confident in your ability to incorporate new management strategies in a vineyard||75%|
|Increased knowledge of Holistic Management principles||80%|
|Increased knowledge of decision making frameworks||70%|