Containers of Roundup, left, a weed killer containing glyphosate, on sale at a hardware store in Los Angeles in 2017. Associated Press

Napa Green to hold town hall following announcement of Roundup ban

Despite diametrically opposed studies on its safety, Napa Green recently announced that it will require members to phase out the use of Roundup and other synthetic herbicides by 2026 and 2028, respectively. 

On Thursday, the nonprofit focusing on vineyard and winery sustainability will hold a town hall and panel with industry experts to discuss the decision to move toward herbicide-free weed management practices in the coming years.

“We are the first program globally to redevelop our vineyard standards to focus on climate action and regenerative farming and social equity. We set an incredibly high bar,” executive director Anna Brittain said. 

In 2021, the nonprofit convened a Pesticide Working Group to revise its Vineyard Certification Standards, she said. At the time, the organization chose not to require that vineyards be herbicide-free, but they did designate a new “gold level” standard specifically for organic and herbicide-free growers. 

It also introduced requirements for all growers to limit herbicide use. Brittain said the new standards called on growers to lower herbicide use by 5% each year, and limit when and where they applied herbicides to limit runoff potential. 

The working group has continued to meet biannually in the two years since the revision, and this year the group reached a majority conclusion that synthetic herbicides needed to be phased out. This will begin with Roundup, but in 2028, it will also include common alternatives like Lifeline and Finale XL, which uses glufosinate-ammonium as its active ingredient.

Brittain said that this decision was not an easy one. Getting rid of herbicides requires a “systematic change to farming” on the part of growers who have relied on them for weed management. Other methods include more hand weeding, which means more paid hours of manual labor. Alternatively, switching to mechanical methods of weed removal, like tractors and plows, require a fairly large monetary investment, and generally take longer.

Additionally, 37% of Napa Green’s current members — as well as those in the process of getting certification — still use synthetic herbicides, and Brittain believes there is a chance some members will leave the organization with this change. 

For Napa Green, the pros outweigh the cons.

Synthetic herbicides are “reducing diversity in the soil, it’s reducing the health of the microbiome, and all the microbes and the fungal networks in the soil when you’re applying this chemical to the soil,” she said. “From a soil health standpoint, we felt that was pretty unequivocal. We’re very focused on regenerative agriculture and it’s hard to say you’re working on regenerative agriculture if you’re not regenerating soil health.”

Adding to the confusion and controversy, two major agencies focused on cancer and health have come to completely different conclusions when it comes to glyphosate. 

The substance has been deemed “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It has also been linked to the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after long-term, repeated exposure and threatened species including the monarch butterfly and honeybees, according to Napa Green.

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said “there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label. EPA also found that glyphosate is unlikely to be a human carcinogen.”

And Bayer, the current producer of Roundup (which was brought to market by Monsanto in 1974), states that the product can be used safely.

“Glyphosate and Roundup are among the most thoroughly studied products of their kind, which is a major reason why farmers around the world continue to rely on these products,” a Bayer spokesperson said via email. “For 50 years, leading health regulators around the world have repeatedly concluded that glyphosate-based products like Roundup can be used safely as directed.”

Molly Hodgins, a viticulture professor at Napa Valley College, said that whether or not growers should move away from herbicides entirely isn’t clear.

“I think it’s a tough call,” Hodgins said. “The soil is generally healthier when it’s kept in an organic state, which is having weeds. There’s more organic matter in a soil that is allowed to have weeds grow. But managing undervine weeds with mowing is more expensive and it is more work, so I think there is room for some herbicides in a sustainable program.”

But worries about the health effects of Roundup and other herbicides like it are why Randle Johnson, a longtime Napa grape grower, decided to stop using all weed killers in 2019. 

He’s been a winemaker in Napa for almost 50 years, and remembers when Roundup was first introduced to growers. 

“I was around when Roundup hit the market and it was viewed as a silver bullet. People cheered and clapped,” he said. “At the very beginning, it was felt that it was so benign you could ingest it.”

He used Roundup in the vineyards he worked in until 2018, when he stumbled upon a medical infomercial warning of the herbicide’s negative effects.

“I quit using Roundup in my own vineyard three to four years ago,” Johnson said. “But when chemicals are phased out, farmers are going to ask, ‘What can I use instead?’” 

There are mechanical methods that vineyards can use, like the French Plow and other tractors, to take out weeds between vines. Johnson also said that hand-farming is an option. But for him, both of these methods turned out to be a lot more expensive and time-consuming than using herbicides.

Brittain said that Napa Green is planning to provide at least two training workshops during the first quarter of 2024 to teach members about non-herbicide weed management options.

The nonprofit has also raised $60,000 to match funds for members’ sustainability and climate action efforts. Brittain said that growers making changes to phase out herbicides will be able to apply for those funds in the new year. 

For a small number of vineyards that are unable to entirely phase out herbicides, Brittain said that some variances might be granted. The idea of variances has been controversial among Napans, but Brittain said that the number of these exceptions will be small.

“There’s been a take of like, ‘You’re just going to give anyone a pass,’ which is not going to be the case,” Brittain said. “Those variances are going to be very limited.”

“This industry is extremely narrow margins and we do anticipate there will probably be a handful of growers where they really can show, ‘With my level of slopes and terraces or the amount of rocks in my soil, there isn’t other equipment I can use,’ or ‘The labor is really absolutely cost-prohibitive,’ and we’re going to be looking at that very carefully,” she continued.

She said that a peer-review committee will be assembled to assess these variance requests on a case-by-case basis. The committee will likely include Napa Green’s vineyard program manager along with volunteers, both from vineyards that do use herbicides and those that do not.

Brittain said case studies conducted by Napa Green, available in the group’s weed management toolkit, show that over time, moving away from herbicides can reduce expenditures, and sometimes lead to a premium on the price of grapes in the long run.

At Thursday evening’s town hall, she expects the majority of the conversation to revolve around how to make the transition period manageable for current and potential new members of Napa Green. 

The event will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, at 8440 St. Helena Highway (Highway 29) in Rutherford. To RSVP, visit napagreen.org/toolkit.

Making the commitment to third party certification takes time and effort, but it is worth it to demonstrate our commitment to the community and to protect our watershed, our land and the air we breathe.​

Napa Green & Premiere Napa Valley 💚

Thank you for creating such a beautiful event @wheelerfarmswinery! 

Incredible offerings from Napa Green Certified wineries @aowinery, @chandonusa, @grgichhills, @inglenook1879, @rombauervineyards, @spottswoodewinery, @trefethenfamily, @troisnoixwine & @stsupery!! 

Cheers to @premierenapa!
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The whole team is here and some amazing friends are joining us like @spottswoodewinery, @accendocellars, @aowinery, @stsupery, @rombauervineyards, @chandonusa, @troisnoixwine, @trefethenfamily, @matthiasson_wine & @grgichhills! 

Our first @premierenapa event kicks off at 4pm today at @wheelerfarmswinery!! 🍷🎉
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Grazing in the vineyards with a big assist from Cup the Sheep Dog! 

We’ll see you at our event in partnership with @napa_valley_grapegrowers on Feb 27th at @thecastello! Link in bio for registration. 

#welovedogs #sheepdog #sheepfarming #grazing #vineyards #napa #napavalley #regenerativeagriculture #soilhealthmatters
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Sign up for the Grazing Workshop on Tuesday, Feb 27th at @thecastello at the link in our profile. 

@napa_valley_grapegrowers @perennialgrazing
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Add the Napa Green logo to your back label! 

Find the link in our profile or email megan@napagreen.org. Happy bottling season!
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Not just talking the talk but walking the walk is very important to us. One way we do that is by providing our members with as many tools and resources as possible. Here’s what’s coming up: 

1. Weed Management Equipment & Tools for herbicide-free farming - Thurs, Feb 15th at @inglenook1879 at 9:00am. 

2. Napa Green Premiere Open House for the Wine Trade - Thurs, Feb 22nd at @wheelerfarmswinery at 4:00pm. 

3. California Small Farms Conference - Thurs, Feb 25th with @mimicasteel & Ben Mackie at 3:00pm. 

4. Grazing for Vineyard Health & Fire Resilience - Tues, Feb 27th at @thecastello at 9:00am. 

Find all details and registration on napagreen.org under the Connect with Us tab or just head to the link in our profile. We’ll see you all soon.
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📣 February Events! 

www.napagreen.org ➡️ Connect with us ➡️ Events & Workshops! 

Or head the link in our profile to find it all & how to register with one click. See you all at an event soon.
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Join us for a Grazing for Vineyard Health & Fire Resilience Field Day in partnership with @napa_valley_grapegrowers. During this February 27th event we’ll discuss ways to best utilize sheep in the vineyard and employ grazing animals for woodland management, addressing both fire fuel reduction and post fire recovery. Don’t miss this opportunity to delve into regenerative practices for your vineyard and beyond! 

Find the link in our profile to register.

📸: @sarahannerisk
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History, sustainability & fine wine at Napa Green Certified @schramsberg! 🥂

#wine #sparklingwine #schramsberg #napa #napavalley #winecave #winecollector #winelover #sustainability #organicvineyard
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🍷Wine Trade! Register for our Premiere Napa Valley event on Feb 22nd at the link in our profile!🍷
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Apply for a grant! Applications can be found at the link in our bio. 

#sustainability #climateaction #winebusiness #wineindustry #napa #napavalley #grantapplications #napawinery
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📣 Announcing our first ever NVV Premiere Event! 📣

Thursday, Feb 22nd from 4pm-6pm at @wheelerfarmswinery. Register at the link in our profile!
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Providing resources, tools and education for our members is core to what we do. Come see us at a February event! 

Register at the link in our profile. We’ll see you there!
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Weed Management Event at @inglenook1879 on Thursday, Feb 15th from 9:00am - 12:00pm. Link in profile to register. 

Por favor, mira hasta el final para ver el mensaje en español.
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Save these dates! 3 great events coming your way in February. 

Find info and registration at the link in our bio or at our website: napagreen.org under Connect with us - Events & Workshops!
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