It has been a tough year for farmers battling fires, drought, and record-breaking weather events. Climate change is affecting farmers across BC in several ways. For Rick Thrussell, the extreme heat is top of mind. “We’re having this conversation within just a few days of record temperatures here. We hit 44 the other day, which is unheard of,” says Thrussell. They managed the record-breaking heat this year but have started to consider what the future might look like. Thrussell says, “I think water and how you manage your canopies are going to become a priority. It’s not going to be business as usual 25 to 30 years from now. We have to start making those changes or it’s going to hit our industry, as well as many others in the fruit growing industry, very hard.” Adaptation will be a key and necessary strategy for Sage Hills Vineyard but they are also thinking about ways to reduce their impact.
Their biggest climate initiative is their recently installed solar panels which Thrussell feels is an important step, especially being in the Okanagan. Thrussell says, “We’ve always been about organics, the environment, benefiting not only the community we are in but the lands we are the stewards of and this just fits in with our ethos.” The panels have been hugely beneficial for the farm. In a few short months, they saved the equivalent of 339 trees, 28,017 lights, 6.8 tons of co2, and 770 kg of gas. “We produce more power in the district than we consume,” says Thrussell. In June alone, the solar panels generated more than 5,000 kWh of energy.
It is important to the Thrussells that the vineyard is maintained as naturally as possible. Their main initiative is to leave the rows of the vineyard to grow wildly, which benefits them in several ways including helping both their soil and the vines. “The green growth brings in beneficial insects like praying mantises, ladybugs, and predatory wasps, bugs that control the “bad bugs” that we don’t want. When you eliminate that undergrowth, now you have no natural defences from the predatory insects that live there,” says Thrussell. They learnt very early on that the land needed more stability around the vines. Thrussell remembers, “In our first year on this farm we had a flash flood because nothing was holding the ground together after it was planted. In the years since, you can see it is the orchard grass and various plants that live underneath the vines that are binding the soil together.” Cover crops also help with water retention and nutrient management in the soil.
While most of their land is in production, any area they don’t need is left alone. The Thrussells would rather let those areas thrive on their own. “The organic material, the bugs, the small animals that live in these spaces, have always lived there,” says Thrussell. Not only is this organic management climate-friendly, it is also beautiful. Thrussell says, “Organic vineyards, in a way, look a bit unkempt, they look messy and overgrown. But that’s the beauty of an organic vineyard.”