What looks like a prop from the famous Hannibal Lecter movie ‘Silence of the lambs’ is a snout for sheep that could significantly improve the footprint of table grape production. A special design snout guard allows sheep to eat weeds and grass, but prevents them from eating vines in an environmentally focused goal to improve productivity, reduce CO2 emissions and the use of chemicals for vineyards, and to supply more pastoral land to reduce pressure on land clearing. The simple system could lead to savings of several hundred Dollars per hectare – and result in a collateral sheep business for the farmer. The focus of Wine Baa is a dualistic approach, the combination being a reduction in costs and excess, as well as an environmentally sound solution bringing farming back into self sufficiency.
In 2014, Cumulus trialled the use of sheep in a small section of the vineyard to assess the impacts on vineyard inputs, especially fuel use. Cumulus Vineyards has a 508 hectare vineyard in Orange, NSW. A neighbour’s sheep were placed in a 100 ha fenced portion of the vineyard. The sheep remained in the vineyard during winter and were removed in mid-September. Introducing sheep into the vineyard was found to provide a source of revenue from sheep agistment and reduce expenses associated with slashing and herbicide spraying. In 2015 sheep were grazed across the entire 508 hectares of the Cumulus vineyard. The sheep grazing allowed Cumulus to avoid two passes through the vineyard that would otherwise have occurred (one for slashing and one for spraying herbicide). Details of the savings achieved are shown below.
We talked to Winebaa founder David Robertshaw about ‘sheep labor’ in the table grape farm.
The Fruit World: We have to ask the question: Why organic weed control when you can spray?
David Robertshaw: There are 3 main reasons why we blieve WineBaa is better than spraying:
- Using Herbicides has been shown to kill microorganisms that create healthy soil. Using sheep not only stops the killing of these microorganisms they improve the soil health, with manure and less soil compaction caused by the use of tractors. All this results in heather and better tasting fruit and wine.
- Waste and co2 emissions is another factor, a large proportion of land in vineyards and orchards is pasture. This pasture once was unusable. Now there is a way to not only limit one’s waste but to also reduce co2 emissions through reduction of tractor use and in the production of chemicals.
- Producers aren’t just farmers they are running a business, and if there is a way to lower costs by eliminating herbicides, tractor use and introduce a new revenue stream through either agisting sheep on their property or running their own sheep enterprise. Essentially they are doubling their land use and lowering their exposure to the risk of a single produce.
The Fruit World: Please tell us about short- and long-term cost differences and the ’side effects’ of sheep grazing.
David Robertshaw: If sheep are managed in a full production system or separate enterprise (eg lamb and/or wool production) the additional commodities may present additional income over that estimated from agistment alone, depending on the profitability of that enterprise (estimated up to $350/hectare gross margin per annum, referenced against Australian industry data for 2017 financial year). However, this assumes existing infrastructure, stock, skill base, optimal conditions (stocking rate 10
DSE, minimum 1000 head, highly fertile soil, improved perennial pasture and high seasonal (winter) rainfall). In most cases, the extension of an existing sheep enterprise or agistment of stock is the most appropriate and cost effective way to integrate or transition sheep into the vineyard and generate a return on investment in Winebaa, without considerable capital expenditure and investment in stock and infrastructure.
The Fruit World: Tell us how your product came about – and the company.
David Robertshaw: The idea came about by watching prime irrigated vineyards being mowed meanwhile we strugle to feed our live stock in times of drought I thought there must be a better way, a way that the land could be grazed without damaging the vines. After several prototypes and many hours in my Aunties vineyard we developed what we have today. We sell to 10-20 different producers each week and have been growing in sales weekly.
The Fruit World: You have a pink version. A fashion decision?
David Robertshaw: Although it is very stylish the pink has a more practical reason. sheep can easily blend into Hectares of vines, after we lost 10 sheep in a few 100Has of vines in Adelaide we decided we needed a high visibility option.
The Fruit World: Thank you very much.