Montlouis trials sheep grazing in its vineyards

Wednesday April 08 2020 by Vitisphere

 Over the past few days, the sheep have started to take an interest in the vine buds... They will soon be removed from the vineyards, before returning next winter. Over the past few days, the sheep have started to take an interest in the vine buds... They will soon be removed from the vineyards, before returning next winter. - Photo credit : L. David

We need to ramp up our commitment to agro-ecology. By bringing sheep into our vineyards and sowing green manure, we will improve the organic matter content of our soils, reduce the use of mechanical tools and our carbon footprint”. François Chidaine, vice-chairman of the Montlouis-sur-Loire producers’ organisation is working on a far-reaching collective conservation grazing project using sheep. “More than 20 winegrowers are all-set to get on board, both organic and conventional. But our project is also aimed at farmers at large and local communities. Cereal farmers and a market gardener are already interested in joining. A total of more than 300 hectares of vines, crops, fallow land and natural areas, particularly on the banks of the Loire, could be maintained using sheep”, claims Chidaine.

Sheep and ewes will be given free rein of the vineyards from November to March, to keep down the green manure crops, graze on weeds and thus postpone the need for tractors to till the soil. The animals would be removed from the vineyards before budburst. “We plan to choose Solognote sheep and the herd is expected to reach a total of 350. Our goal is to ensure economic viability for the sheep farmer”, explains Chidaine. One candidate has already come forward and the winegrowers and farmers will make their land available free of charge to the sheep farmers, who will earn an income from the sale of lambs.

Subsidies will however be needed. Our project is not eligible for CAP aid. We are going to call on the local authorities and the regional council”, adds Chidaine. Until the sheep arrive next autumn, Montlouis winegrowers will be able to draw on the experience of Laura David. Since the end of February, the Montlouis winegrower has brought 45 Ushant sheep in to graze in her vineyard, and “shares” them with the neighbouring Domaine de Montoray. “The sheep have kept the grass shorn nicely”, smiles Laura David, a young grower converting to organic. “My goal is to use natural techniques for tillage and to cut out two passes with the tractor after the harvest and in early spring. We are using a shepherd who provides us with his sheep. The approach is no cheaper than mechanical tillage, but will give us greater biodiversity and amendments. There will also be less soil compaction and asphyxiation”.

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