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Agro-ecology and production: what innovations can we expect in the future?



FINDINGS #7
21 JUNE 2022

SYMPOSIUM “ACT FOR CHANGE”
PANEL DISCUSSION: “AGRO-ECOLOGY AND PRODUCTION: 
WHAT INNOVATIONS CAN WE EXPECT IN THE FUTURE?”


INTRODUCTION

On 20 and 21 June 2022, international professionals and experts gathered at the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux for the second edition of the Symposium “Act for Change”. These two days of talks were organised to shed light on the major changes and impacts on the production and distribution of wines and spirits by 2030. It was an opportunity to get together and discuss, exchange ideas, and work together to better prepare ourselves for the challenges that await the wine world in the coming years.

Faced with modern-day climate challenges and the need to remain relevant and competitive in a constantly evolving market, there is a need for innovation when it comes to agroecology. While this notion conjures up a whole galaxy of diverse realities and beliefs, regulations concerning it are advancing rapidly and influencing, and sometimes even constraining winegrowing practices. From high-tech solutions to a return to the basics, agroecology is being reinvented and redefined under the impetus of players wishing to make it accessible to as many people as possible. As an introduction to the panel discussion, Lydia Héraud, Regional Councillor in charge of viticulture & spirits for the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region, reminded the audience of the importance of developing an ecosystem of accessible and sustainable solutions as quickly as possible in order to adapt to climate change and develop new practices that have a positive impact on agriculture and viticulture.

SPEAKERS

Lydia Héraud, Regional Councillor in charge of viticulture & spirits for the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region, introduced this discussion. The session was moderated by Tamlyn Currin, Journalist for JancisRobinson.com. Around the table were Katie Jackson, Vice-President of Sustainability at Jackson Family Wines, Ilai Englard, Co-founder and CEO of Trellis, Marc Raynal, UMT SEVEN Host for the French Vine and Wine Institute, Rachel Kolbe Semhoun, Head of Sustainability at InVivo and Jessica Villat, a specialist in sustainable, regenerative viticulture. 


THEME: AGROECOLOGY AND PRODUCTION: WHAT INNOVATIONS ARE IN STORE?

INNOVATING FOR A MORE RESILIENT INDUSTRY

At the Sustainability branch of Jackson Family Wines, we are pursuing the goal of decarbonising our production as much as possible by 2050, paving the way for a positive approach for future generations. To achieve this, we use various tools, including co-founding the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) organisation, which promotes the sharing of information and knowledge between wine industry players to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and implement positive actions. We are also developing a free and open-access “calculator” to measure the carbon footprint of estates. To promote and preserve biodiversity, we also encourage the planting of forests and the development of agricultural areas where possible. So far, we have not seen any negative impact on any of the proposed solutions. This is why we are convinced that they will make agriculture and viticulture more resilient, with better quality vines and preserved soils.

(Katie Jackson, Vice-President of Sustainability at Jackson Family Wines)

Our company, Trellis, is dedicated to using artificial intelligence to increase productivity, reduce risks and improve sustainability in the winegrowing and agrifood industries. The desire to contribute to projects with a positive impact is partially what pushed us to invest in this project; we were a little tired of projects and “tech” companies that ignored these issues. By working closely with the wine industry, we have identified several technological levers that provide positive solutions for winegrowers: forecasting, decision-making support and automation. These tools do not in any way replace human expertise. Rather, they develop thanks to it. And the positive outcomes are almost instantaneous. There is waste everywhere and at all stages of the production chain. By analysing the data, it is possible to reduce losses and thus make savings, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, more generally, move towards a more global integrated approach that takes better account of the systems in place and possible interactions.

(Ilai Englard, Co-founder and CEO of Trellis)

Within the UMT SEVEN team, composed of researchers from INRAE, Bordeaux Sciences Agro and the French Vine and Wine Institute, we are trying to act on three main subjects: insurance, understanding major vine diseases and studying the reproducibility of these diseases. This requires the development of specific tools, but also close collaboration with various key players to support and protect winegrowers. Currently, the risk-benefit ratio of innovative agroecological solutions is not viable enough to initiate significant change. Winegrowers don’t use chemical pesticides for the sake of it, they simply don’t have any other economically worthwhile options. Today, we have tools at our disposal, but it is necessary to meet and exchange knowledge to develop new practices.

(Marc Raynal, UMT SEVEN Host, French Vine and Wine Institute)

InVivo is an agricultural cooperative group, recognised as a “company with a mission”. This means that we have a legal obligation to take action to create a more sustainable and resilient form of agriculture. To do this, we work mainly on product traceability and on measuring the impact of solutions to demonstrate their usefulness and encourage farmers and winegrowers to adopt them. Obviously, the same solution does not necessarily work for everyone. This is why we need data, so that winegrowers can evaluate the right solutions for their specific area. Among the projects developed, we have worked in particular on agrivoltaics, which is showing interesting results. Not only does it diversify income by producing energy, but it also creates areas of shade, changes the moisture content of the soil and therefore the quality of the vines.

(Rachel Kolbe Semhoun, Head of Sustainability at InVivo)

As part of my thesis entitled “Down to Earth: Identifying and Promoting Regenerative Viticulture Practices for Soil and Human Health”, I was interested in two major topics: the identification and definition of regenerative practices, and the existing barriers for winegrowers who try to adopt them. Nine regenerative practices were identified. Not only did we succeed in proving the real usefulness of these practices in terms of decarbonisation, but we were also able to identify their cumulative effect. By combining them, the positive impact was multiplied. Regarding the profile of the winegrowers who use these methods, we observed that they really focus on a long-term vision of soil preservation. It is very important for them to be close to their place of production. In addition, they usually have small estates, which allows them to be more flexible and limit mechanization as much as possible. 

(Jessica Villat, specialist in sustainable, regenerative viticulture)

REGULATIONS: A CONSTRAINT OR A BOON FOR AGROECOLOGY?

Nowadays, one of the most important things to do is to experiment, which involves a certain amount of risk. Regulations can be a constraint, but we have to work with them. It is not so easy to move from one paradigm to another. When we test new things, we have to exchange and adapt constantly. As far as our insurance is concerned, the main difficulty is administrative. But more broadly, we must not forget that our current winegrowing system was built on chemical treatments. We have integrated these practices so much that winegrowers don’t always know how to do without them. This is why we must continue to support them and develop tools. 

(Marc Raynal, UMT SEVEN Host, French Vine and Wine Institute)

Regulations also have a positive aspect, as they sometimes encourage us to move forward on certain issues. They can initiate change. The main barrier to change remains risk-taking; taking a tool away from winegrowers is bound to make them anxious. The aim is to move towards solutions that are not “risk-free” but “regret-free”. By accumulating more knowledge, we can create an environment conducive to experimentation. 

(Rachel Kolbe Semhoun, Head of Sustainability at InVivo)

MOVING AWAY FROM A TOP-DOWN APPROACH TO MORE COLLECTIVE LEARNING

In Japanese culture, there is the term shizen, which refers to nature, but can be translated as “all things and beings”. This is an interesting concept, as it is a systemic and collective approach to nature rather than an individual entity as in Western culture. To find collective solutions that have a real impact at all levels, this diversity of cultures and points of view is necessary. It allows us to take a new look at our problems and to gain perspective on the ecosystem at work. To move towards more collective education, it is necessary to recognise the importance of other points of view and to show humility. It also means getting large and small producers to work together. And contrary to what one might imagine, many agroecological solutions are not expensive and they build on what already exists. Everyone has their place in this collective effort.

(Jessica Villat, specialist in sustainable, regenerative viticulture)

A change in the relationship between producers, technicians, experts and consumers is taking place. We have to understand that no one has a miracle solution today, but we are building new models. Of course, we rely on our existing knowledge and historical data and technology can help us with this. But the main message is that we are no longer in a context of “one problem = one solution”. We must adopt a new set of practices and a whole culture to bring about real change. To achieve this, we promote the creation of self-help networks, with an approach directed at small, low-cost solutions. 

(Rachel Kolbe Semhoun, Head of Sustainability at InVivo)

To adopt a communication method that is less top-down, we should share the fact that, as researchers, we don’t know how to do certain things. This is very important and allows us not to lock ourselves into a position and to learn from others. It is also important to see what is being done elsewhere and to communicate internationally, but not all solutions work in the same way everywhere. This is why international networks are important. 

(Marc Raynal, UMT SEVEN Host, French Vine and Wine Institute)

Previous generations knew that everything was connected. I think that research is moving in this direction, with greater transversality. COVID has taught us that there are still things we don’t know how to handle, but that we can adapt quickly. We have experimented and have sometimes made mistakes. The use of AI allows us to shorten learning cycles to optimise decision-making. But we must have an interaction between technology and experts, as technology cannot provide solutions alone. So, we have to accept mistakes, stay humble, try things out and grow as we go. Even though it’s not always perfect, we must act to make meaningful solutions available. The advantage is that nowadays it is increasingly easy to collaborate and communicate internationally to create synergies.

(Ilai Englard, Co-founder and CEO of Trellis)

We have to get away from individual accusations so that everyone can take responsibility and start acting. We need to constantly ask ourselves questions and learn from our experiences. Regarding the integration of small-scale producers and the economic constraints they may face, it should be noted that some solutions are not only more economical but also more sustainable. This is the case for renewable energies, for example. For regenerative agriculture, there are also funding programmes to support this transition. The emergence of these new practices is therefore possible.

(Katie Jackson, Vice-President of Sustainability at Jackson Family Wines)
 

About Vinexposium
Vinexposium is the world's leading organizer of wine and spirits trade events with a portfolio of iconic and recognized events. The group also draws on its digital portal Vinexposium Connect to maximise the scope of its events and serve the industry’s business interests across the globe 365 days a year.

 
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