Fungi, insects, nematode weeds and all these pests are seemingly plotting to wreak havoc in the vineyards. Not surprisingly considering the wide range of their enemies, vineyards are one of the most pesticide-intensive crops, which raises public health concerns in France and elsewhere. If the need to decrease the amount of crop protection products is rather consensual, official initiatives to reduce their use have not been successful to date. This underlines a double challenge. On the one hand, there is an urgent need to identify the tools to make vines less pesticides-dependent without allowing pests to attack them at the same time. On the other hand, the environmental impact of vine cultivation must decrease.

The RIPP-Viti project, led by researchers from France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE), as part of the French national strategy Ecophyto, addresses these challenges, focusing on southern vineyards. The scientists are studying alternative agricultural practices, such as pest biocontrol, which relies on agroecological mechanisms to protect the crops, or cover crops between the vines. These practices allow biodiversity to be at the core of the solution, by creating an ecosystem that repels the spread of pests through natural biological regulations.

The researchers also seek to quantify the potential productivity losses these methods can generate. In order to reduce pesticides’ impacts, they are evaluating the potential of buffer zones like grass strips or green ditches. These constitute natural filters to limit pesticide dispersal. The ditches especially collect run-off water and retain part of the crop protection products, limiting the level of final water contamination.

However, these strategies will only make sense if vine-growers can implement them. This is where RIPP-Viti comes as a participative project involving local producers. According to INRAE researchers, this common work is much needed to identify the most realistic strategies and to come up with, hand-in-hand with local farmers, new farming systems that contribute to the transition towards agroecology. This dialogue between scientists and vine-growers could create a territorial dynamic which would help make a greener vineyard industry.