Sep 4, 2020
Richard Leask on regenerative agriculture in the wine industry
In this episode of Work Conversations, CozWine & Baytech National Manager Ed Milne sits down for a discussion with Richard Leask, Managing Director at Leask Agri. A third generation farmer, Richard and his family own and operate 50 hectares of vineyards, two wine brands in South Australia and a vineyard management business.
As well as this, Richard is also a Nuffield Scholarship recipient, which gave him the opportunity to travel the world in order to research a particular area of interest - in Richard’s case, the subject of regenerative agriculture as a farming system. The result was his published report ‘Is Being Sustainable Enough for Australian Wine? Regenerative agriculture can redefine what is best practice viticulture’, which takes a look at regenerative agriculture and its potential to create healthier, more sustainable vines and crops in the face of climate change.
Climate change is a rapidly growing issue for the country’s wine industry. Though an increase of one or two degrees might not sound like much, it will have a huge impact on some of Australia’s favourite grape varieties and their defining characteristics. Coupled with the rise in temperatures, is the way rainfall has been affected by climate change, seeing it become less regular, making it difficult for growers to plan for what is already a limited resource in Australia. Grape Growers are needing to change irrigation systems and watering practices to ensure their water can stretch through the season.
Richard delves into some of the basic principles of regenerative agriculture and how it could prove to be a sustainable way to combat some of the effects climate change is having on Australia’s vineyards. At its core, Richard explains, regenerative agriculture is about increasing soil health, which involves two key players: soil carbon and soil microbiome. The carbon present in soil makes it more “plant available”, which allows plants to extract more water from the soil with greater ease. This carbon is also incredibly important for feeding the microbiome which, in turn, nourishes the plants. One of the major benefits of this system is that once established, farmers and land managers can let this run its course without the need for interference. It is a work of ecology at its finest.
During his research, Richard also gained greater insight into the ways farmers could begin to see under-utilised land as potential to better their soil quality. This involves integrating and managing livestock as well as “cover crop”, which has become what Richard describes as a phenomenon in various parts of the world. In order for vineyards to enhance their soil capabilities, many have planted “a cocktail” of 60-70 plant species to increase the soil microbiome and feed the various soil flora. In what he describes could “be a game changer for Australian viticulture”, this would allow vineyards to fully enhance the capabilities of the land that might have previously only served as tractor access.
Of course, there is always the need to find the balance between sustainability and business, or as Richard says, “you can’t be green when you’re in the red”. So it is about creating a business structure that then allows for the implementation of these sustainable practices.