Organic producers should use renewable energy, says Torres

Producers who adopt organic viticulture should be made to use renewable energy sources to offset the increased carbon emissions from the farming practice, believes Miguel Torres.

Miguel Torres has become the wine industry’s most prominent climate change activist

The influential Spanish wine producer, who has become famous for his environmental activism, made the comment during a lunchtime discussion with key press in London earlier this month.

When asked by the drinks business why he hasn’t converted more of his vineyards in Spain to organic farming practices, he said that it was the increased amount of energy required to manage vines in this manner, as well as the extensive use of copper, that had prevented him from seeking organic certification for his grapes.

“The problem with organic [viticulture] is that we have to use copper against mildew, and it is a problem: copper is toxic,” he said.

Continuing, he also said that because copper is less effective than synthetic chemicals against fungal diseases such as mildew, it needs to be applied more often, which in turn produces more carbon emissions from the greater number of miles travelled by the vehicles spraying the heavy metal.

“With organics there are more emissions because we have to pass through the vineyard more often,” he said.

He then said that as a result he would like to see organic certification in Europe come with a requirement that, because of the greater amount of fuel used, and therefore carbon dioxide produced, there should be a compensatory increase in the quantity of energy sourced from renewables, particularly using solar panels.

Indeed, he said that he had been lobbying the European Union on just such a matter, as well as an allowance for alternatives to copper in organic farming, but, because of the need for agreement from all member states, he said, with great frustration, that his attempts have been thwarted.

“I would like Brussels to legislate that if you use the organic label and you have to spray more often then you should have to use more renewable energy to offset your emissions,” he said.

He also said that the European Union should allow the use of Potassium phosphonates in organic farming, commenting that if Brussels did approve their application, then he would be obliged to convert his vineyards to the practice.

“If we could use phosponates and our carbon footprint was reduced then we would have to consider becoming organic,” he said.

However, continuing he commented, “But it is so difficult to reach a consensus in the EU… if one country does not agree with a change, and then everything is stopped.”

Despite the support for the use of phosphonates in organic farming from himself, and in particular from German farmers, Torres said that the EU blocked the proposal to approve their use, noting that France didn’t want to see a change to the current rules of organic practices – “they are defending tradition,” he said.

According to Torres, using Potassium phosphonates makes organic farming more feasible in wetter parts of Europe, while reducing the reliance on “toxic” copper.

Potassium phosphite is non-phytotoxic and can be used for both a protective as well as curative treatment against fungal disease in vines.

While it is proven as an effective treatment against downy mildrew – but not powdery mildew – it has not been approved in the EU for organic grape growing, most probably because the application of Potassium phosphonate leads to phosphonate residues in the resulting wine (Control of Downy Mildew of Grapevine with Potassium Phosphonate: Effectivity and Phosphonate Residues in Wine; B. Speiser, A. Berner, A. Haselli, L. Tamm; Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, 2000, Vol. 17, pp. 305-312).

President of Bodegas Torres, Miguel Torres, has become a well known climate change activist, and was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at The Drinks Business Green Awards in 2011 for his career spent supporting sustainable environmental practices in the wine industry.

Bodegas Torres was previously named as International Green Company of the Year by db in 2010 for its commitment to sustainability, and in 2009, the business was the highest ranked wine producer in db’s inaugural Green Power List for drinks companies.

Miguel Torres told db that he credits his environmental activism to Al Gore – Torres became seriously concerned about his company’s effect on the planet after he first saw An Inconvenient Truth, the 2006 documentary film about former US Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate people about global warming.

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4 Responses to “Organic producers should use renewable energy, says Torres”

  1. I totally agree with Miguel.It is ridiculous to rely only on a toxic fungicide like copper, which requires many applications and the use of more fuel in the tractor. The “regulators” of the organic movement do not know what is really important, like climate change.

    Another problem with organic viticulture is the banning of “synthetic” fertilisers. It is easy to pick out organic vineyards in a district, they are so starved of nutrients. And I have seen often that nutrient stress predisposes them to trunk diseases.

    Good for you Miguel, it is time the witch doctors were kicked from controlling viticulture!

    Richard Smart

  2. Miles Edlmann says:

    Great article – hopefully Miguel’s enlightened comments will get the attention they deserve, and wonderful that someone as influential and knowledgeable as Dr Smart has thrown his weight behind him. The issues surrounding weed control in organic vineyards are equally relevant. I tried to raise the same issues a while back in a piece for The World of Fine Wine:

  3. I am agree with Mr Torres.
    The copper is toxic and new organic product are welcome.

  4. Peter Melchett says:

    Miguel Torres is right that copper is used a fungicide in organic farming, but otherwise his claims are plain wrong. Copper is a natural mineral, found in soil, essential for all healthy crop growth, and often added as a soil conditioner in non-organic farming. However, it can only be used by organic farmers, usually on some potatoes, vines or apple trees, as a last resort, under strict conditions, with special permission, and organic farmers can only apply up to 6kg per hectare per year. Many vineyards will never need spraying. Miguel Torres’ suggestion that organic farming uses more energy because of repeated spraying is therefore not true, and research on organic farming generally shows lower energy use than non-organic.

    Dr Smart’s comment on the article added another inaccurate point, when he says organic farmers don’t care about climate change, but then argues that organic standards should not ban manufactured Nitrogen fertilisers. He seems unaware that these fertilisers cause around 40% of greenhouse gas emissions from farming, and because they are banned in organic is a key reason that organic farming has lower greenhouse gas emissions.

    Manufactured fertilisers and almost all chemical sprays (fungicides, insecticides and all weed-killers) are banned by EU organic standards, and organic wines are produced in ways that use less manufactured chemicals and additives. Organic farming is better for farmland wildlife, for preventing diffuse pollution and for climate change. Organic wines are produced in ways that respect the environment, and the rapidly growing sales of organic food and drink worldwide show that people increasingly agree.

    Peter Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association UK and organic farmer

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