A native plant hedgerow at one of VIno Farms’ vineyards in Lockeford, CA. Photo: Cameron Newell / Xerces Society
Launching Bee Better Certified in California Vineyards

Year three has been full of excitement and growth for Bee Better Certified.  In addition to hosting field days and celebrating the launch of newly certified products, we are continuing the expansion and exploration of Bee Better Certified across a diverse array of cropping systems.

With over 600,000 acres of winegrape vineyards in California, this industry seems like a great fit for Bee Better Certified.  The winegrape industry has shown a strong interest in protecting pollinators and promoting natural enemies and has a history of working closely with Xerces and other wildlife conservation partners. The unique direct-marketing of wine provides a close connection between producer and consumer, increasing the likelihood of successful adoption of a certification program such as Bee Better.

You might be thinking right about now that winegrapes are not pollinated by bees; and you're right!  A great thing about Bee Better Certified is that the habitat and management practices required by the program help to support a wide range of other beneficial insects in addition to bees and other pollinators. These insects help to control pests in the vineyards, breakdown and cycle nutrients, and increase water infiltration--to name just a few benefits!

In the fall of 2019, Xerces received a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to demonstrate the benefits of Bee Better Certification within the wine industry.  By providing technical and financial support to bring these vineyards to certification, we hope to accelerate adoption of Bee Better Certification and NRCS wildlife and resource conservation goals across the industry.

To kickoff the implementation stage of the project we conducted site visits at the five participating vineyards, spanning four different counties,to assess the potential for habitat and to discuss the pesticide practices outlined under Bee Better Certified.

 

Senior Pollinator Conservation Specialist Jessa Kay Cruz inspects a native plant hedgerow along with Ancient Oak Cellars owner Ken Moholt-Siebert.  Photo: Cameron Newell / Xerces Society

 

Temporary pollinator habitat can make up 4% of the habitat requirements for Bee Better Certified and is key in vineyards located in densely farmed areas such as Napa County.  Through this project we will work to develop seed mixes that flourish in vineyard conditions and support the wide array of beneficial insects found in these places. Xerces staff will also develop cover crop management recommendations that fit into existing vineyard practices and hopefully can later be adopted more widely throughout the industry.

A certified vineyard must also have at least 1% in high quality permanent pollinator habitat.  With high pressure from powdery mildew and vine mealybug throughout much of central and northern California’s wine growing regions, practices to protect permanent pollinator habitat from pesticides are a key piece of meeting Bee Better Certified standards.  Vegetative drift barriers can greatly reduce pesticide drift and offer opportunity for installing permanent habitat in areas that otherwise would not meet pesticide buffer requirements under Bee Better Certified.

Habitat plans have been developed for the participating vineyards and the important work of site preparation, such as mowing and weed removal, has already begun at many of the sites.  Site preparation will continue through to this fall, when we will begin the habitat planting phase upon the completion of the season's grape harvest.
 

Written By: 
Liz Robertson, Cameron Newell, and Jessa Kay Cruz