April 29, 2013 by Renata Brillinger
A study entitled Climate Change, Wine, and Conservation published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts that by 2050 the climate change impacts on the viability of wine grape production will be substantial and varied by geographic region.
While many such projections focus primarily on the impacts on farming and agricultural economies, this study is unusual and important because it also takes into account the effects that shifting agricultural production will have on ecosystems and natural resources. As the authors conclude, “goals of maintaining sustainable development and allowing ecosystems to adapt naturally can be achieved only if adaptation includes consideration of secondary impacts of agricultural change on ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Predictions for California show an average decrease of about 60 percent in the net area suitable for grape growing as production shifts north and upland. As production regions shift upslope, California grape production is expected increase the impact on natural habitats by 10 percent. Freshwater use — already a scarce resource — is expected to increase as vineyards use more water to cool grapes in a hotter climate.
Though the study is global in scope, the authors acknowledge that significant regional variation will play out depending on soil types, topography, microclimates, the adaptive responses of wildlife to climate change and more.
The report makes mention of agronomic adaptive strategies to climate change such as altered trellising and efficient micro-misters. They also mention “managed retreat” to new varieties in an attempt to reduce water use and upland habitat loss and call for increased investments in new varieties.
Beyond individual actions such as these that growers can take, the authors also recommend larger regional planning efforts to balance production and natural resources/conservation priorities. They give an example from South Africa where wine producers and environmentalists have formed the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative to carry out activities such as joint planning of vineyard expansion to avoid areas of high conservation importance, a marketing campaign with an environmental theme, and resources for producers on management practices to reduce the environmental footprint of vineyards.
This study highlights both the consequences of unchecked climate change and also the need for planning and preparation at both the vineyard and regional level — something needed in all sectors of California agriculture as it prepares for farming in an uncertain climate future.