The current edition of the standards and
procedures manual of the oldest certifying agency in
Oregon grew from 50 pages in 1994 to 129 pages in 1998,
not counting subsequent updates on new products and
processes. A corresponding, on-line index of brand name
products approved for organic producers is growing exponentially.
In order to market any produce-- including winegrapes--
as "organically grown" all operations in the
vineyard must comply with the practices outlined in
the standards manual. All sprays and fertilizers, even
the material used for trellis posts must be within the
It is not that farming a certified organic
vineyard is any more difficult than its conventional
counterpart. But it is a very different project, requiring
a distinctly different mind set. Here in the Willamette
Valley we are blessed with bountiful rain, and cursed
by aggressive grasses and unwanted weeds that thrive
as a result.
Our moist climate presents the challenge
of fungal diseases every season. The organic growers
combats these with old fashioned sprays...principly
sulfur in its various forms and applied in precise quantities
at the correct moments.
special attention is given to cover crops. We
vary them, planting crimson clover one year, Austrian
winter pea and oats the next. All are eventually incorporated
into the soil to add a rich mixture of nitrogen, other
important nutrients and organic matter on an annual
There is little doubt about the importance
of soil health for farmers everywhere. But for grape
growers there is emerging evidence that soil health
may be an issue of life and death.
A growing body of research indicates that
the roots of organically farmed grapes are less vulnerable
than those of conventionally grown vines to the pathogens
that prey upon grape roots in the wake of a phyloxerra
infestation (see Lotter, Granett &Omer, HortScience
34(6) 1999) Further the researchers hypothesize that
the use of certain herbicides may contribute to the
conventionally farmed grape roots vulnerability.
We are at a point in history when some
of the Pacific Northwest's most vital watersheds are
in jeopardy. Non-point pollution from agricultural runoff
accounts for more than 50% of the pollutants in the
Willamette River above Portland. A recent U.S. Geological
Survey of river samples found residues from 29 herbicides
and 7 insecticides basin wide. Nitrate levels and water
temperature exceeded state standards in a number of
The waters of the Willamette basin were
once one of the world's greatest inland salmon spawning
grounds. While the pulp mills and industrial sites along
the river's banks are fairly closely monitored today,
farm runoff is not. It accounts for up to 60 % of the
pollutants in the Willamette and its tributaries.
As one extension agent who has worked
in the Willamette Valley for many years told a group
of food industry leaders in 1998, " Everyone agrees
more sustainable farming is where we are going...it's
just a question of how we are going to get there."
For the valley's grape growers,
we believe the question really isn't " Why organic
?" The question is " Why not?"