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This first point relates mainly to the use of crop-protection products.
The use of vine protection products, whether natural or synthetic, is a technical and economic necessity. The harsh northern climate creates favourable conditions for plant pests and disease and places Champagne among the most vulnerable of the world’s great vineyards.
For more than twenty years now, the industry has been investing huge sums in research and development aimed at controlling the possible consequences of measures taken to protect crops.
The result today is responsible pesticide use, limiting inputs to those approved for sustainable and/or organic farming systems. Both systems share the following basic principles:
A variety of decision-making tools have been developed as a guide to the application of these principles in the field:
The precautionary principle may be invoked by the Champagne authorities to discourage the use of products that despite being approved for use at EU and national level are nevertheless believed to pose a significant risk to water or air quality.
Some 30 field personnel visit the vineyards on a weekly basis. Their remit includes: hosting local information meetings; setting up in-field demonstrations and pilot sites; answering telephone enquiries; and generally working to raise awareness among producers and support them in their new endeavours.
The results of this concerted mobilisation of resources are there for all to see. The past 15 years have seen pesticide use in Champagne cut by 50%, well exceeding the targets set by the Grenelle Environment Forum. The most noticeable drop is in the use of environmentally damaging products (those most likely to occur at trace levels), reflecting the tighter safeguards now in place. Half of all the products used today in Champagne are approved for organic use. Champagne now ranks among Europe’s leaders in the development of ‘gender confusion’, a natural alternative to synthetic substances that can virtually eliminate the use of conventional pesticides (this technique has been used in 2013 to control pests in a third of the total Champagne AOC – 13,200 hectares).
The past 10 years have also seen a five-fold increase in the percentage of organic plantings, though these still represent no more than 1% of the total area under vine.
The action plan laid down at the Grenelle Environment Forum aims for a 50% reduction in the use of pesticides by 2018 – and the Champagne industry is well prepared to meet that challenge.
Another priority is to reduce nitrogen inputs and pursue the development of organic viticulture.
A pioneering commitment