The Challenge of Regenerative Agriculture

regenerative agriculture“Regenerative agriculture,” the new buzzword in viticulture practices, is already being “misused, abused and diminished by growers, winemakers and wine writers across the world,” writes Dudley Brown in an important article at Jancis Robinson. It’s being lumped in with the mislabeled “sustainability” which he argues is an unachievable goal.

Sustainability is the goal, not the means. You can be more or less sustainable, but never sustainable.

He makes a good case for the importance of regenerative agriculture as a means of maintaining healthy soil. But what struck me about the article was these two paragraphs, which set out in impeccable logic a rather dismal future for the wine industry.

Despite abundant but decreasing resources, the world will be unable to feed itself into the future absent meaningful changes to how we farm. Growing wine and other alcohol inputs is different to other agricultural pursuits in that does not provide food, clothing or shelter for people and is not benign in its externalities to the planet’s health or that of the human species. (There is no such thing as a little heresy.) Given this status in an increasingly resource-constrained environment and including the effects of ongoing climate change, more extreme weather events and declining availability of water, grape growers and grape growing will be put on a riskier and more precarious perch than other agricultural pursuits over time.

Assuming a semi-rational world, to the extent that growing wine grapes and making wine (or other alcohol) diverts resources – land, labour, water, farm inputs and capital – away from these other unfulfilled needs of a growing population is the extent to which wine grape growers will need to utilise their resources at a beneficial level of practice matching or exceeding that of the best of the alternative users of these resources. The extent that wine grape growing does not do so will likely be the extent to which wine grape growers can expect to lose their social, ecological and economic licences to operate in the future, in that order.

Of course, I’m not sure we can assume “a semi-rational world.” Quite the opposite in fact. We are just as likely to flounder, refusing to make tough choices until it’s too late to head off mass starvation. The drinks industry may flourish by supplying benighted denialism the alcohol to help maintain their delusions.

But if that future doesn’t sound attractive it might be a good idea to start thinking about the alternative that Brown provides.

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