Ecological and economic benefits of integrating sheep into viticulture production
Niles, Meredith T.
Garrett, Rachael D.
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CitationNiles, M.T., Garrett, R.D. & Walsh, D. Agron. Sustain. Dev. (2018) 38: 1. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-017-0478-y
The integration of crop and livestock systems has been recognized for its potential to reduce the environmental impacts associated with agriculture and improve farmer livelihoods. However, to date, most research has focused on the integration of cattle into crop and pasture systems. Here, we examine the integration of sheep into vineyards and assess farmers’ perceived benefits and costs of the practice. Viticulture expansion has led to significant land use change in recent years and new environmental challenges, particularly with respect to herbicide use. Sheep integration into vineyards offers the potential to utilize the synergies of both systems to reduce external inputs, promote soil health, and increase farmer profit. Our study focuses in New Zealand, the world’s 15th largest wine producer, particularly in Marlborough, which produces 75% of the country’s wine. As a result, the case study is an excellent representation of New Zealand viticulture, while also providing unique insights into a novel practice. Using a semi-structured interview and survey, we interviewed fifteen farmers representing 5% of total New Zealand wine production to examine ecological and economic benefits of sheep integration in viticulture systems. We find that seasonal integration of sheep during vine dormancy is common, while integration during the growing season is rare. Overall, farmers perceive significantly more benefits than challenges with the integration of sheep into vineyards, particularly reduced mowing (100% of farmers) and herbicide use (66% of farmers). On average, farmers reported 1.3 fewer herbicide applications annually, saving US$56 per hectare. As well, farmers indicated they were doing 2.2 fewer mows annually saving US$64 per hectare. These results suggest that wide-scale adoption of seasonal integration of sheep and viticulture can provide large ecological benefits and higher profitability vis-à-vis conventional viticulture practices; however, further integration of the two systems may provide even greater benefits not currently realized.