If you enjoy a glass of California wine, chances are good that Brenda Wolgamott had something to do with it. She manages 3,000 acres of vineyards along the Golden State’s Central Coast for the Wine Group in Ripon, the second largest wine company in the world marketing around 60 different brands.
Wolgamott, also a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA), and Rebecca Kraup, a CCA with Helena Agri, Yara International’s Retailer, were honored as 2021 4R Advocates by The Fertilizer Institute last month during the annual Commodity Classic event in New Orleans, Louisiana. The presentation of their award was delayed one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 4R Advocate Award program recognizes farmers and fertilizer retailers for their commitment to nutrient stewardship using the 4Rs, or the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, the right time and in the right place. Using 4R practices, farmers improve their return on nutrient inputs and decrease environmental impact. The 4R Advocate Award program is one component supporting the recent announcement that the fertilizer industry has committed to having 70 million acres under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Management by 2030. In addition to sharing their stories during Commodity Classic, the pair supported TFI and its 4R education efforts last year.
“4R Nutrient Stewardship is a priority for the fertilizer industry, plus it’s a tangible solution for thousands of farmers across America who are seeking fertilizer application practices that have real-world, positive impacts on their bottom lines and their land,” said Corey Rosenbusch, TFI President and CEO “We are proud of our industry’s retailers who work with growers to implement these practices at the field level.”
Making great wine takes great grapes. And growing premium wine grapes takes an intense attention to the details of nutrient management, pest control and irrigation. “My approach is having balanced soil fertility,” Wolgamott says. That’s where the 4R concept becomes critical.
Plant tissue and soil samples are taken at key timings to ensure that adequate nutrition is available to the crop at the right time. The tissue samples are GPS plotted to monitor the vineyard over the year. A nitrogen management program is in place to ensure the vines receive the precise amount needed for foliage growth, but not too much so the leaves overwhelm the grapes and give the red wines vegetative flavor notes.
She incorporates the use of an in-house drone and works with a Syngenta program that takes infrared pictures that show stress spots.
Fertigation through a drip system both irrigates and fertilizes the vines, allowing precise nutrient application of the right nutrient at the right time. In addition, she uses foliar application as needed. All the information goes into Agrian, a software program that combines data from multiple sources to give Brenda the information she needs for scouting and nutrient recommendations.
Wolgamott’s vineyards are certified by the California Sustainability Winegrowing Program. A focus of her sustainability efforts is carbon sequestration. Cover crops consisting largely of native grass species protect the fields and provide mulch. Prunings and clippings are also used as mulch, which promotes water conservation and reduces the carbon footprint. ‘We’re doing some trials with different cover crops and how well we can store more carbon,” she adds.
When Wolgamott took over the vineyards, she was dealing with older vines, some of which have compromised root systems. At the time, some blocks were producing around 3 tons per acre of grapes on a very high fertilizer budget.
In the last five years, yields have increased to 6 to 8 tons per acre, depending on the winemaker’s preference for grape quality, all while decreasing the amount of nutrient inputs. The fertilizer budget decreased from $324 per acre to just under $140, a savings of more than $552,000. This increase in efficiency is due to a focus on the right timing and right source of nutrients.
Additional 4R practices include:
- Account for nutrient credits from the previous year to determine rate
- Variable rate application of nutrients; 20% applied post-harvest
- Split applications of nutrients
- GPS precision planting and nutrient application
4R Advocate Program recognizes exemplary farmers, retailers
In 2012, TFI began annually recognizing five farming operations and their retailer partners who diligently follow 4R practices and document their progress as 4R Advocates. Throughout each year, the advocates help promote understanding of the 4Rs during trade shows, media interviews and local educational events.
“The 110 4R Advocates recognized since the program began collectively represent more than 270,000 acres on a variety of cropping systems in 25 states,” said Peyton Harper, TFI Director, Retail and Field Sustainability. “From carrots to tomatoes and wheat to wine grapes, the types of farms, their owners and retail partners demonstrate the practical application of 4R stewardship practices in a diverse mix of crops, climates and land types.”