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An ancestral practice widely used in France until the 1950s, viti-pastoralism allows biodiversity to be reintroduced into the vineyards while improving yields.
Most winegrowers face four major problems with their vines: soil compaction, herbicide resistance of so-called invasive plants, lower yields and higher production costs. This is why more and more wine professionals are interested in viti-pastoralism, an ancestral practice that is coming back into fashion.
The principle is simple: graze sheep in the vineyard during the vegetative rest period of the vine, between October and March. The animals will then clean the plots, grazing on the grass and plants at the foot of and between the vines. This process was commonly used in France until the 1950s, including in the most famous wine regions. It then gave way to other techniques derived from industrial agriculture, such as the use of machines or herbicides.
An efficient and rational method
Viti-pastoralism is not a new fad. It represents an effective response to a concrete problem, in a rational agroecological approach. This practice makes it possible to obtain short grass at the end of the winter, which limits the work of agricultural machinery on the ground while reducing soil compaction, a real scourge for farmers. Furthermore, if the so-called invasive grasses and plants are grazed by sheep, it is no longer necessary to use chemicals to clear the vines. This is a way of limiting the pollution of the plots of land, of promoting biodiversity, but also of saving money. Finally, the presence of sheep naturally contributes to the contribution of organic matter, which limits the use of fertiliser.
One ewe for every 10m2 of grazing area
Of course, the use of viti-pastoralism is accompanied by certain constraints, as for any agricultural practice. Thus, it is strongly advised to opt for sheep (lambs, rams, sheep…), small enough not to damage or even trample the vineyard, but big enough to clean a plot efficiently and quickly. One ewe is needed for every 10m2 of grazing area.
Another important element is that grazing must be stopped when the vines are budding, otherwise the livestock will devour the buds or young shoots. For better yields, it is also suggested that grass or legumes be planted on the plots. This cover will tend to naturally limit the expansion of other grasses, while being more interesting for livestock to eat. The winegrower will also have to decide whether he wants to work with a shepherd or whether he plans to have his own flock of sheep, preferably of a hardy breed, such as the Solognote. In the latter case, he will have to set aside meadows for dynamic rotational grazing during the periods when the animals are not in the vineyard, and also provide them with a place to stay, especially during the winter. Finally, care should be taken with bioaccumulative plants that store copper in the soil and in plant protection products: they can be harmful to sheep.