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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