Future VineBalance Updates to Address Biodiversity and Social Equity

In the final weeks before harvest becomes everyone’s top priority, the NYWGF Grower Sustainability Advisory Committee has been hard at work reviewing our VineBalance Gap Analysis, which compares the original VineBalance self-assessment workbook from 2007 to leading sustainability certifications around the country: LIVE, Lodi Rules, and SIP.  

The first layer of this analysis evaluates the broader categories of sustainability addressed by each program to identify what all programs have in common, where VineBalance exceeds other programs, and where it falls short in addressing certain priorities. The categories of sustainability that all three programs share are soil health, water conservation, and pest management. One area where VineBalance goes deeper that other programs is pesticide management. For example, VineBalance includes questions about the security of pesticide storage, certified applicator supervision, and the recyclability of pesticide containers. Key areas where VineBalance falls short include management strategies for biodiversity and worker health and safety. These are target areas for the update process, given the following objectives of NYWGF’s statewide sustainability program: 

  • To encourage healthy ecosystems, biodiversity, and wildlife habitat 
  • To foster a socially equitable and economically viable industry 

The second layer of the gap analysis compares the scoring elements of each program, including hard line requirements and those that are scored on a sliding scale. The program that has the most in common with VineBalance is LIVE, which offers sustainability certification throughout Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. SIP, short for “Sustainability in Practice,” also holds much in common with VineBalance, although its certification scheme applies to both wineries and vineyards. The program that has the least in common with VineBalance is Lodi Rules. Lodi Rules is the oldest and most pared down of the certification programs, established by the Lodi Grape Commission in California in 1992. 

LIVE addresses biodiversity by requiring that growers map all ecological infrastructures on and around their vineyard property, including streams, wetlands, riparian zones, forage, and habitat. Actions to maintain these vital wildlife resources are also required. Lodi Rules addresses ecosystem management by requiring a survey of environmental features (vernal pools and swales, trees, woodlands, drainages, and riparian areas) in addition to a written ecosystem management plan. Lodi Rules also considers woodland management, native vegetation buffer zones, and the maintenance of bird and bat nesting boxes a priority for growers. SIP addresses conservation and enhancement of biological diversity. One requirement of the SIP program is to develop a conservation plan every five years through consultation with local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Cooperative Extension agents. Other requirements of SIP include establishing conservation easements and maintaining native grasses, flowering plants, and insectary rows. 

LIVE addresses worker health and safety by evaluating accident procedures, protective clothing and equipment, and safety training. LIVE also requires for onsite employee housing to be habitable and specifically disallows forced and child labor. Lodi Rules addresses human resources management by requiring a written human resources plan that includes the company mission, vision, and values; strategy for human resources; staffing and recruiting procedures; training and development protocols; employee performance management and employee relations strategies; compensation and benefits; and record keeping policies. Lodi Rules also evaluates employee safety training, development, teambuilding, bonuses, healthcare, and other benefits. SIP addresses social equity by requiring growers to provide a written contract, employee handbook, orientation, safety program, and adequate break time to all employees. 

In the next phase of this process, our VineBalance consultant, Chris Serra, will work closely with our Sustainability Program Manager, Grower Sustainability Advisory Committee, and Technical Review Committee to update VineBalance to meet all objectives of our statewide sustainability program using best practices identified through our VineBalance Gap Analysis. This update will preserve much of the original VineBalance workbook as part of a vineyard management module and combine it with new modules that fulfil our complete list of sustainability program objectives. 

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New York Wine & Grape Foundation

The mission of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is to promote the world-class image of New York grapes and wines from our diverse regions to responsibly benefit farmers, producers and consumers through innovative marketing, research, communication, and advocacy.