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HERDADE DE COELHEIROS – Achieving resilience through balance and biodiversity

COMPANY:
Herdade de Coelheiros

Coelheiros is divided into cork forest, vineyards, walnut orchards, pine trees, olive trees, meadows and a herd of a thousand sheep. We know that the harmony between these systems positively impacts the culture of the vineyard, allowing it to self-regulate, with less and less external intervention.

Working towards an estate as resilient as possible in the long term, since 2015 Coelheiros began the transformation towards the practice of organic viticulture, plantation and recrafting with grape varieties better adapted to our reality, decreased production, regeneration of the cork forest among other practices.

PROJECT TITLE

Achieving resilience through balance – Biodiversity based sustainability model in Alentejo

ABSTRACT:

Coelheiros represents a typical estate from Alentejo from 100 years ago: a mosaic of ecosystems and cultures intertwined through 800 hectares. Our agriculture philosophy is based on all our cultures working together as a self-sustaining organism, each providing service not only to itself but also to the Herdade’s ecosystem. We work towards achieving maximum resilience through the balance between cultures growing resilient vineyards that produce better grapes and consequently wines.

PROJECT STARTING DATE: 15 March 2019 | ENDING DATE: ongoing

SUSTAINABLE TARGET: 

Coelheiros’ sustainable target is to achieve maximum resilience in all its cultures, making it possible for us to be producing wines without external inputs such as watering or chemical synthesis products in a region which will most certainly be hit by global warming in the upcoming years.

PARTNERS: 

Universidade de Évora

REASON WHY/ MOTIVATION:

In Coelheiros it is all about increasing resilience: we feel the responsibility to preserve the natural heritage of the estate, guaranteeing its sustainability and enhancing its self-regulating capacities. We believe we have in our hands the unique opportunity to make a difference, showing that the only way to achieve future-proof resilience is through balance.

Growing resilient vineyards, we’ll produce healthier grapes and thus better wines. We are also motivated by the possibility of being able to produce wines without external inputs such as watering or conventional chemicals in a region which will most certainly be hit by global warming in the upcoming years.

DESCRIPTION AND STRATEGIES:

The techniques we apply in Coelheiros have the final goal of increasing biodiversity in the estate – in terms of insects, birds, plants, etc – and thus achieving the perfect balance between the players that help us grow vineyards and the ones who don’t without using any outside input.

Consequently, creating synergies between all components of our environment and using the energy of the Herdade’s natural system to renew itself is paramount to us.

To help us with this, Coelheiros has partnered with Évora University in a study absolutely innovative since it applies state of the art academic knowledge to a real life estate and addresses 3 levels of biodiversity – soil, plants and insects and birds – with the goal of comparing the gains of conventional vs organic farming. It includes the study, over 3 years, of the impact of organic farming and the holistic take on farming we practice in the estate and particularly in the vineyards, comparing plots with conventional farming against plots with organic farming.

In this study with Évora University we have currently, and since 2018, 8 post-grads from Évora University studying the the following in Coelheiros:

  • Soil component: Characterize soil type and relate microbial life to roots (mycorrhiza). It includes the analysis of the roots of the vines and their relationship with the type of soil, water content, stock of nutrients available to plants, etc.
  • Flora component: Characterize and analyse floral component.
  • Fauna component: Survey of cork forest’ fauna (vertebrates and insects) and further analysis of how and that diversity can favour us in terms of the dynamics of populations that may exist in the vineyard
    • Later on, the bat component was also added:
      o Monitor the species of bats that exist in Coelheiros. Includes the analysis of bat faeces in order to access which insect species are part of their diet and whether they are having a positive impact in the vine pests or not.

Aligned with Évora University’s study, we use the following strategies combined with cutting edge technology to monitor (prevention) and try to intervene as little as possible:

 

Promote Soil Biodiversity:

  • Aborting herbicides in the entire estate. Instead, we use the herd of 1 000 sheep to eat the grass in the vineyards and the walnut orchard. This herd operates solely in Winter months, when we can assure there is no damage being done to the cultures.
  • We protect groundwater by not using chemicals that destroy soil biodiversity.
  • We don’t mobilize the soil. Instead, we tested several types of grass, aiming to find the best for each plot, in order to:
    • Decreased soil compaction
    • Improvement of irrigation
    • Increase of organic matter
  • We produce compost that is later applied to the vineyard, made of wallnut shells, stalks, sheep manure, and bio manure that we buy from the dairy in front of the estate.

 

Promote Fauna Biodiversity:

By aborting insecticides in the entire estate. In Coelheiros, we reject the concept of plague. Rather we believe in promoting biodiversity: we promote the presence of a multitude of different species of insects which leads to a smaller number of individuals of each species. We are, therefore, using each insect’s species to control each other. In each vineyard, the goal is to find the optimum point between the population of auxiliary insects and the pests.we

Development of riparian galleries. Riparian galleries are formations of native plant species in the transition zones between our cultures ecosystems with the ability to provide shelter and food for terrestrial and aquatic fauna, thus promoting the increase of biodiversity. Our riparian galleries work as “highways” of biodiversity that allow helpful insects to reach every culture.

Implementation of bat boxes to promote bat population. Bats can eat up to 10 times their weight every night, thus helping fight the moth in the vineyard and orchard.

           

  • We preserve our rocky outcrops that work as caves for bats and large birds.
  • Natural food chain rehabilitation:
    • Abolition of hunting
    • Sowing

 

Promote Flora Biodiversity:
Studying our flora has allowed us to identify species that are bio indicative of the different vineyard locations we have.

  • All vineyards are currently in the process of conversion to Organic Production Mode. We will be 100% Biological in 2020, since the conversion started in 2018.
  • Vineyard related; we’ve also decreased watering of our vineyards in order to turn their root system as resilient as possible as well as, when planting new vineyards, installing them without watering system.
  • We have restructured our vineyards in order to plant more well adapted grape varieties to our climate and soil and ones which are also more future proof. We give preference, when restructuring our vineyards, to re grafting rather than new plantations, as it provides us more resilience.
  • Our Cork Forest has FSC certification, and therefore we only use products based on organic chemicals – specifically ground rock – namely in phosphorus and calcium applications. We are also regenerating the cork forest by increasing its biodiversity and perpetuating its lifetime.
  • We plant 3 types of meadows in all of our cultures – either vineyard, cork forest and walnut orchard, which gives us a greater diversity of plants, insects and birds
    • Perennials – sown by us, last between 4 to 10 years
    • Spontaneous – represent the Coelheiros’ natural diversity. We only balance it with nutrients
    • Annuals – food for sheep

ACHIEVEMENTS SO FAR:

  • By aborting hunting, we’ve witnessed an increase of rabbits and hares’ populations which have attracted back eagles and hawks that eat rabbits, but they also frighten other smaller birds that were a plague for us such as the starling. That is, the entire ecosystem is linked, and if we keep it in balance it works perfectly.
  • Complete elimination of the use of herbicides
  • Cost reduction in the purchase of food rations
  • Improved soil fertility
  • Increased species diversity in spontaneous grassland
  • Improved soil: Structure and Moisture
  • Increased carbon retention.
  • Vineyards show more resistance to pests and diseases.
  • Reducing the economic impact of pests.
  • FSC Cork Forest certification and cork quality enhancement.
  • Vineyards more resilient to heat spikes.
  • Increased population and diversity of fungal structures, such as mushrooms, which are indicators of increased soil fertility and health. In addition, these populations provide back nutrients in the soil for the vineyard.
  • Qualitatively, grapes show great improvement since we started these practices and in quantitative terms, we have also noticed an increase in nutritional value and phenolic load in them.

LESSONS LEARNED:

Application of our biodiverse ecosystem as a development model for other agricultural initiatives.
Be aware to the continuous nature of this process, working for the long run.

NEXT STEPS

  • Recovery of riparian galleries on a larger scale.
  • Increase the number of sheep.
  • Place more nests for passerines and bats. More prey perches.
  • In order to reduce the impact of pests, namely mites and leafhoppers in the vineyard, we plan to increase borders on the water lines so that the migration of pests to the vine in dry years is mitigated.
  • Promote water points throughout the estate for insects, bats and passerines.
  • Beekeeping.

POTENTIAL FOR REPLICATION

There is potential por replication of this model of promoting biodiversity in every estate that has enough scale.

Member

Herdade de Coelheiros

Area

Alentejo, Portugal

Date

16 Junho, 2020

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Let’s Create A Sustainable Future For Generations To Come.