Stephanie Wong
Environmental Studies 220
Final Report
May 6, 2005

Vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley: Method used to prevent the traditional use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers

The goal of my internship was to determine the methods used by local vineyards to prevent the traditional use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Because of the abundance of vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, viticulture is the ideal type of agriculture to complete this study. As of December 2004, the Walla Walla Valley alone housed 59 different wineries. Working with my sponsor, Sandra Cannon from Walla Walla 20/20, I located several vineyards within the area to complete the interviewing process. Through this internship I hoped to develop a better understanding of chemical use in the agricultural business as it has a direct effect on the community at large as well as those who are in constant contact with these chemicals, posing potential health problems. Chemical use in the vineyard directly affects the laborers and those living near the vineyard and could potentially indirectly affect those who consume the final product. I intended to determine means by which to prevent the overuse of chemicals in the agricultural business and am specifically interested in the certified organic production of goods. It is my belief that certified organic vineyards not only practice more environmentally sound methods of agriculture, but the final product is also healthier for the consumer as there is no chemical residue.

In the interviewing process, I began with Badger Mountain Vineyard, Kennewick. Though not a part of the Walla Walla Valley, Badger Mountain is one of the few Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) certified organic wineries in the area. With knowledge of the viticulture practices at a certified organic vineyard, it was then my hope to interview non-organic vineyards to be able to compare the processes used.

I spoke with Greg Powers, the vintner, from Badger Mountain Vineyards, and asked him a series of questions regarding their certified organic status and the methods they employ to have a successful grape growing business. Using Greg Powers as my resource, in addition to a publication called “Wine & Health” in which Badger Mountain Vineyards was hailed as producing some of the nation’s healthiest wines, I was able to determine the methods they use in order to be classified as certified organic. Greg Powers explained that Badger Mountain uses products only approved by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. According to “Wine & Health” the vineyard employs only all-natural methods in order to control fungus, weeds, and insects—the last being the most prevalent problem cited by Powers. Badger Mountain uses predatory insects such as nematodes and applies natural soap to control the population levels of the so-called “bad” insects. In order to prevent herbicide use, the vineyard employs an in-row cultivator or hoe plowing to control weeds in the grape rows. Furthermore, they use composted grape skins and seeds as well as all-natural blood meal and fishmeal as fertilizers. Appropriate nitrogen and humus levels are achieved through growing cover crops such as vetch and rye.

Though Greg Powers did not provide me with specific figures regarding costs, he did mention that organic methods tend to be slightly more costly than traditional pesticide, herbicide and chemical fertlizer use. However, Powers explained that the two major reasons for converting to organic methods were a) he was concerned for the health of the community that lived near the orchard and b) his father worked in the agricultural business all of his life and was able to see the adverse effects chemicals have on health (in particular, his coworkers developing cancer). Both of these, according to Powers, outweighed the increased monetary costs. The vintner also explained that through the increased population of beneficial predatory insects, the expenses of organic methods decreases. Thus, biocontrol methods are essential and beneficial to the success of an organic winery.

Following my interview with Greg Powers, I then spoke with an employee at Seven Hills Winery. Unfortunately I did not write his name down, though he was helpful in providing me with the name of Ken Hart, an advocate of sustainable viticulture, who is a vineyard manager at several different wineries in the Walla Walla Valley. Ken Hart does not support organic methods of agriculture for he believes many organic methods can be just as detrimental to the environment as the traditional use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. In order to be certified organic within the state of Washington, farming techniques must be in accordance with the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) rules and guidelines. Ken Hart explained that many certified organic farms use heavy metals, including iron which is not prohibited by the WSDA. Hart felt that organic growing is not always beneficial to the environment or to the quality of the produce. The use of heavy metals depletes the nutrition value of the product because it kills the microbiology necessary for the conversion of nutrients. Furthermore, heavy metals pollute the water table. Another detriment to the environment caused by many organic farmers is the use of sulfur, copper and cow manure (the last of which Hart cited as being just as harmful as commercial fertilizers). Therefore, Ken Hart believes sustainable viticulture to be the most environmentally responsible form of farming.

Beyond explaining the reasons behind not being certified organic, Ken Hart also provided me with information regarding sustainable farming. The vineyard manager explained that through the use of microbiology, he is able to produce nutrient soil which then produces nutrient grapes. He is a member of the Walla Walla Valley Vinea: Winegrowers’ Sustainable Trust, a website that lists the types and amounts of chemicals permitted. Sustainable farming uses chemicals, but only when absolutely necessary. Hart also informed me that sustainable farming tends to be more expensive in the transition (from traditional chemical use to sustainable farming), but is beneficial to the environment and thus necessary for his farming techniques.

Following my interview with Ken Hart, I then continued my research on sustainable viticulture at the Vinea website. There are currently twenty-three viticulture growers who are members of Vinea Sustainable Trust. Vinea’s mission statement is “To develop and implement a sustainable vineyard management program, synonymous with the Walla Walla Valley, internationally recognized for its strict environmental standards and high quality farming practices” (“Walla Walla Valley Vinea: Winegrowers’ Sustainable Trust”). By limiting the time and amount of chemicals used in their viticulture practices, sustainable farmers are able to produce grapes that are high in nutrition value through a means that is not detrimental to the environment. It is their belief that the environment should be protected and sustainable farming is the only means by which to do so.

I continued my interview process with Darcy Fugman-Small of Woodward Canyon. Woodward Canyon is one of the members of Vinea Sustainable Trust and their farming practices are in accordance with sustainable viticulture. Fugman-Small explained that Woodward Canyon uses pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers only once in every three to five years. To prevent the more frequent use of chemicals, they employ sound machines and netting to keep birds from the fruit; they have deer fencing around the vineyard and have water provisions nearby so that they do not have to use scents or chemicals to repel them; and they have planted native vegetation around the vineyard that effectively reduces harmful insects. In addition, they use many of the same methods employed by the organic farm, Badger Mountain.

Through this internship, I was able to determine two methods used by local vineyards to prevent the use of traditional pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. The most interesting thing I discovered in the interviewing process was that there are reasons beyond economics to not practice organic farming. Ken Hart provided a lot of insight regarding the negative aspects of organic viticulture, though it is important to understand that not all organic businesses use heavy metals, cow manure, sulfur or copper.

I encountered many difficulties and setbacks in my internship. The most frustrating hindrance was the difficulty in coordinating a time to interview the vintners regarding their practices. It took me several weeks to contact Greg Powers and Darcy Fugman-Small, largely due to the inability to coordinate my class schedule with their work schedule. Because the vintners are at work when I call them, they are not always available nor do they have the time to talk. While this is frustrating, I have to also understand and be accommodating to their busy schedules.

Many of the hours I spent working on my internship included researching information and attempting to create a spreadsheet with the information that I found. In total I spent about four hours a week, including the time I spent calling the vintners and developing questionnaires. I met with Sandra Cannon periodically and contacted her via email to compare notes.

My recommendation for the future is to be persistent in contacting the vintners. Though it can be frustrating to not be able to get a hold of them, the more one calls, the more likely they will take one’s phone calls. I would also recommend doing plenty of research prior to developing the questionnaires, as it is important to be knowledgeable on the subject in order to ask intelligent questions and receive quality answers.


Key contacts

Sandra Cannon, Walla Walla 20/20
Greg Powers, Badger Mountain Vineyards, 800-643-WINE (9463), 509-627-4986
Darcy Fugman-Small, Woodward Canyon Winery, 525-4129
Casey McClellan, Seven Hills Winery, 529-7198
Ken Hart, Dunham Cellars, 509-529-4685

Resources

"General Information for Starting a Winery or Vineyard in Washington State." Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. 1 May 2005 <http://www.wawgg.org/files/documents/General_Info_for_Starting_a_Winery_or_Vineyard_9-2003.pdf>.
"WSDA Organic Food." WSDA . 14 Apr. 2005. WSDA. 30 Apr. 2005 <http://agr.wa.gov/FoodAnimal/Organic/default.htm>.
Aegerter, Mary. "A Bug Eat Bug World." Washington State Magazine Online. Washington State University. 1 May 2005 <http://washington-state-magazine.wsu.edu/stories/03-winter/bug1.html>.
Badger Mountain Vineyard. 12 February 2005 <http://www.badgermtnvineyard.com/>.
Fugman-Small, Darcy. Personal Interview. 12 April 2005.
Hart, Ken. Personal Interview. 2 April. 2005.
Powers, Greg . Personal Interview. 3 Mar. 2005.
Seven Hills Winery. 1 May. 2005 <http://www.sevenhillswinery.com/>.
Walla Walla Valley Vinea: The Winegrowers’ Sustainable Trust. Walla Walla Valley Vinea. 30 Apr. 2005 <http://www.vineatrust.com>
Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. 26 February 2005 <http://www.wawgg.org/>
Washington State: The Perfect Climate for Wine. 14 March 2005 <http://www.washingtonwine.org/>
Woodward Canyon Winery. 23 March 2005 <http://woodwardcanyon.com/>.