Bordeaux tackles its pesticide use

Wednesday, 12. December 2018 - 9:30

Allan Sichel, CIVB

The Bordeaux Wine Council, or CIVB, last week celebrated ten years of improving the area’s environmental profile. The region’s growers have been at the forefront of the French wine sector’s clean-up efforts, particularly in terms of reducing CO2 production and the chemicals used to fight vineyard pests.

Speakers at the December 6 Wine Environment Forum pointed to a range of successes, including the number of untreated vineyard hectares jumping to 85% over the last decade – meaning they are full of grass and wild flowers, rather than herbicides.

The last ten years also saw 60% of Bordeaux’s vineyards enrol in environmental certification programmes such as the ISO 14000 group of environment standards and HVE (High Environmental Value or Haute Valeur Environnementale in French). The aim is 100%. 

There was however a sour note. Figures published last month by French NGO, Future Generations, showed the wider Gironde region, home Bordeaux’s winemakers, to be one of the nation’s most ravenous pesticide consumers.

CIVB technical research team member, Laurent Charlier, said the NGO’s pesticide usage figures (published late November) were correct but misleading, partly because they cover the regional agricultural sector as a whole. In the Gironde that includes pine tree cultivation and corn growing.

Looking only Bordeaux’s vineyards the picture is brighter, Charlier said. The application of so called CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic) substances has fallen by over 20% in the last decade. At the same time the use of older, less toxic substances has remained stable or risen. Copper usage, for example (deployed mainly against mildew) has remained stable, while sulphur is up about 30%.

CIVB president, Allan Sichel, added that measuring pesticide usage by weight, rather than by treatment frequency, for example, is in itself a problem. This is because older, less toxic products such as sulphur and copper, are often heavier than newer more toxic ones. “So basically, what we want to do is increase usage of the good stuff and reduce CMR substances,” Sichel said.

Other pesticide reduction strides announced at the Forum include the launch of a new online tool to help growers measure their environmental performance and the rising popularity of less toxic ‘biocontrol’ products. Most often described other living organisms, biocontrol methods include a bacteria called bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which kills a range of leaf eating pests. The use of sexual confusion, another biocontrol product used to limit problematic insect reproduction, is also up. From zero in 2015 to 14% in 2017.

Despite advances, sources on the conference side lines warned that mildew is becoming an ever greater and more unmanageable challenge. This year saw some of the highest mildew contamination days since official records began 20 years ago. And while there are growers who feel this could be linked to climate change, others point to previous years with extreme mildew outbreaks – in the 1960s for example. Hail and frost were also a problem in those years.
Sophie Kevany