Delaying the introduction of new water reforms was not an option according to the two cabinet Ministers directly involved – Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.
The initiatives being rolled out by the board include groups of Sustainability Guardians, to work on key areas of water, waste, pest and disease, people, and climate change.
The board has introduced environmental health indicators, with objective and measurable benchmarks, and made a commitment to the industry working towards carbon neutrality.
There is also to be a staged ban of organophosphates, among other changes to Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) and the Spray Schedule.
Together, the measures signal a new direction for New Zealand Winegrowers (NZW), says Edwin. “Simply put, these changes seek to embed sustainability at the core of our industry for the benefit of all members.”
Environmental industry health indicators
A recent PwC review of the New Zealand wine industry defined sustainability as environmental, social and financial, says Edwin.
Existing health indicators of sustainability are comprised of grape price, the value of exports and compliance with resource management rules.
NZW has now adopted four environmental industry health indicators, to ensure care for the planet is also at the core of the industry.
• No major new pests established in vineyards.
• Percentage of member organisations measuring their carbon production footprint.
• Amount of water used to produce a litre of wine.
• Percentage of producing vineyard hectares certified under a recognised sustainability certification scheme.
SWNZ funding model and audits
The NZW board has approved in principle a new financial model that separates SWNZ membership costs and audit costs.
The change also includes options to increase the flexibility of audit verification for members.
The first of these is the introduction of producer groups, overseen by a specific winery, which will be trialled by a producer group in Northland, then developed, says Edwin.
The second option is for “trusted supplier arrangements”, so that members who have passed two consecutive face-to-face audits with no corrective actions can then alternate between a desktop and face-to-face audit every three years.
Edwin says audit verification remains vital to ensure the integrity of SWNZ, but the new model recognises an often-raised concern that the one-size-fits-all approach is too blunt.
“There’s opportunity to increase flexibility, reduce duplication and potentially reduce costs.”
The extent of the changes will be determined after analysis, and their roll-out will link to ongoing development of new vineyard and winery scorecards.
The board also confirmed an audit holiday for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, so that members can be trained in the new scorecards.
Sustainability Guardians Programme
A new SWNZ Sustainability Guardians programme will begin in July, with the establishment of working groups for water, waste, pest and disease, people, and climate change.
Edwin says the Guardians initiative will replace the Continuous Improvement (CI) project, a voluntary extension programme that failed to gain traction.
Instead, the Guardian working groups will address difficult issues in each area and promote peer-to-peer learning on sustainability best practice, says Edwin.
“There’ll also be a Sustainability Guardians Award to recognise an outstanding commitment to sustainability.”
Edwin says the programme will promote sustainability as a core value of the industry and provide members with an opportunity to be recognised for their efforts to go beyond sustainability baselines set by SWNZ.
“These efforts to go ‘above and beyond’ help to protect the environment and our people, create opportunities for knowledge transfer between members, and enhance the reputation of the industry.”
The 2020/21 growing season will be the last where organophosphates can be used on SWNZ certified vineyards.
Edwin says using these chemicals comes with significant health and environmental risks, as well as a reputational risk, as they have been banned in the EU.
“These risks, and the increasing availability of meaningful alternatives, highlight that the ongoing use of organophosphates is simply not sustainable.”
The NZW board has also approved the introduction of an agrichemical rating system based on HSNO codes in future Spray Schedule publications.