Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Ecofarm Chronicles | Day One

Once again, the farmers went to the sea. The organic clan is gathering for its annual migration to Monterey's Asilomar conference center for the 40th Ecofarm conference. A stellar lineup of speakers enthralled, depressed and rallied the tribe.

Great science presentations are a tradition. This year, pesticide researcher and government whistleblower Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, kicked off the conference with an opening speech on the need for growing the grassroots movement for regenerative agriculture.

Jonathan Lundgren presents the case for regenerative ag in a workshop Thursday at Ecofarm. Video of his keynote was livestreamed on Facebook and will be posted on the Ecofarm YouTube channel.
A former USDA scientist, Lundgren's research on the effects of neonicotinoids on monarch butterflies was too hot for the chemical industry to handle and it was suppressed.

In 2015, he filed an official whistleblower complaint (during the Obama administration) and was later dismissed from his government position.

Today he works with the grassroots movements in regenerative ag from his farm in South Dakota, (Blue Dasher Farm) and Ecdysis Foundation with students.

"What we need is a Manhattan Project for bees. That is what we need for food production," Lundgren told workshop attendees at a morning session on bees and pesticides. "Millions of dollars have been spent on keeping a broken system. It's time instead to change agriculture."

"Our current systems are fundamentally flawed and heading for a cliff. We need to burn them all down and rebuild them."

Lundgren said new methods are also more profitable.

"Regenerative agriculture is more successful. The systems are transferrable, scaleable and successful. More organic matter in the soil increases yields."

Stacy Malkan of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit that focuses on transparency in the food system, talked about the pesticide-propaganda chemical industrial complex, pointing out the heavy disinformation systems that chemical companies utilize to sway public opinion, government policy and science itself. Aside from direct subsidies, the companies employ an army of PR professionals and consultants, she said, pointing to newly released documents.

In a Jan. 2020 article entitled The Playbook for Poisoning the Earth by Lee Fang, Malkan said that recently released documents included in the article show the full scope of chemical industry's influence which is more entrenched and well funded than has been known.

"As Gary Kasparov says," Malkan stated, "the point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda. It is too exhaust your critical thinking to annihilate the truth."

In another session, on vine mealybugs, U.C. entomologist Kent Daane and vineyard manager
Erin Amaral reviewed strategies for combatting vine mealybugs.

In the past, the dangerous neurotoxin chlorpyrifos has been used in attempts to suppress the vineyard pest. Its use has tapered off, and beginning in two years, the chemical will no longer be available for use in California.

Daane and Amaral outlined major biocontrol efforts with different types of predators and parasitoids and a discussion of the pros and cons of each.

The audience was captivated by Daane's videos of mealybugs secreting poison to kill predator ants.

Growers face difficult challenges in keeping vine mealy bugs in check whether they use conventional  or approved organic methods, though the organic growers' challenges appear to be greater. Growers using conventional methods are spending about $80-120 an acre at a minimum, Amaral said.

Organic solutions were more costly.

An audience member asked Daane about his view of drone programs to drop predator eggs into vineyards. Daane said he thought drone delivery may not be as effective as spot placement of larvae on infested vines.

"First of all, I don't like using the eggs, because they are not as effective as releasing larvae. And when they are dropped by drone, they might fall on the ground rather than the and don't get to the leaves, where they're needed. More work needs to be done to determine its efficacy" he said.

Bob Quinn's concluding slide in his presentation the past, present and
future of organic farming. After, lunch, attendees heard from keynoter Bob Quinn (a presentation that will later be posted on YouTube) who outlined a vision for the future of organic farming.

Quinn called on the audience to visualize a new form of homeland security - one that encompassed food sovereignty as basic to security. Tying food to health was another key component of his vision for the future.

"Sixty years ago we used to spend 18 percent of our income on food and 5 percent on healthcare (or sick care). Today we spend 9 percent on food and 16 percent on healthcare. It's roughly the same amount of money. We made food cheap and abundant at the cost of our health," he said.

Thirdly, Quinn said, regenerative, organic agriculture is the right way to address climate change.

Quinn, a grain farmer in Montana, went organic in 1991. He launched the KAMUT brand of durum wheat.

He called upon organic farmers to switch the economic system from Commodity to Community and told the story of a community project to help the local Indian reservation residents switch their diets.

"We live near a large Indian reservation where a many people have diabetes," he said. "Working together we were able to help them start growing their own grain on 500 acres and now they are putting in a new flour mill. We helped them start growing lentils, which they can use for oil, too."

The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Surendra Dara and Pam Marrone at Ecofarm
U.C. scientist Surendra Dara presented an afternoon session on beneficials, an emerging area of research in agriculture. Dara has worked food crops but said he will soon be devoting some of his time to wine grapes.

Biopesticide entrepreneur Pam Marrone attended Dara's workshop and the two indirectly discussed possible new fungi based products they might collaborate on in the future.

Monday, January 13, 2020

SF Wine Competition: Best of Class - The Organic Winners

Three organically grown wines got Best of Class awards at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition this week.

1. McFadden Vineyards' Brut 

A local's $35 bottle once again bested brands like Domaine Carneros and other well heeled labels. McFadden's Brut has been a winner in the Brut category more often than not for almost a decade.

(Its sparkling rosé is also a top choice, but in limited production).

2. King Estate's Domaine Pinot Gris

A knockout wine (at $29) this limited production wine from the southern end of Oregon's Willamette Valley is made from biodynamic grapes.

It also got a 93 point score from Wine & Spirits magazine.

3. Carol Shelton's Wild Thing Zinfandel

Sourced almost entirely from organically grown grapes, this affordable ($19) Zinfandel is partially fermented on native yeasts, a feat few can match at this case production level (8-10,000 cases). The grapes come from Mendocino.

The annual public tasting of these wines takes place in SF on Sat. Feb. 15.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Mapping Chlorpyrifos on California Wine Grapes: Where Are the 5 Percent?

California's state health officials map the pesticide data they collect from all agricultural enterprises throughout the year.

In 2017, growers applied chlorpyrifos on five percent of wine grape acreage in the state. Where are these growers concentrated? And what is the changing pattern of chlorpyrifos use on grape vines in California for the last 17 years?

It is worth mentioning that most of California's wines come from Central Valley vineyards, so when you're picking up a bottle of supermarket wine (unless it's organic or biodynamic), there's no way of knowing if it's grown with chlorpyrifos.

Read the companion post to find out what the chlorpyrifos ban on sales actually means in practice.


In 2017, growers applied 49,417 pounds to 26,340 acres of wine grape vines.

Here's a look at 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2017 chlorpyrifos use on wine grapes.



2005 Close Up of Napa & Sonoma Counties

The darkest red areas in the Carneros may be Laird Family holdings.


2010 Close Up of Napa & Sonoma Counties

In 2010, Napa growers applied 272 pounds of chlorpyrifos on 162 acres and Sonoma growers applied 123 pounds of it on 65 acres, according to the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation.


2015 Close up of Napa and Sonoma Counties

The red square on the left might align with Gallo's Two Rock vineyard where chlorpyrifos was used on 400 acres.


2017 Close Up of Napa & Sonoma

There are red squares near Forestville and Petaluma that indicate some growers are using chlorpyrifos there. The pesticide use report would list their names and exact locations.

Want to know more? Check out the Agriculture Pesticide Mapping tool here.


Here's a look at the use of chlorpyrifos on all crops—it was applied to 650,000 acres of them—in California in 2017.

As you can see, it's favored by growers in the reddest part of the state—the area that Republican Congressman and Trump supporter Devin Nunes is from. In addition to using the most chlorpyifos, the area is also known for having severe groundwater pumping and subsidence problems and may be heavily impacted when new water control laws go into effect.


Interested in learning more? Check out the companion post on what the ban on sales actually means in practice.

Ding Dong the Wicked Witch—Chlorpyrifos (Used on 5% of Wine Grapes)—is Dead (But Only Sort Of): California Bans Sales (But Not Yet Use) Effective February 6

Five percent of California's wine grape
growers use Lorsban, a restricted material
linked for years to neurological diseases in
children and adults.
For decades, scientists—and especially pediatricians—have been calling for a ban on chlorpyrifos, an old school insecticide that is used by conventional and, sadly, yes, sustainable growers.

Starting Feb. 6, sales of the neurotoxin in California will be banned.

Glasses up! Break out the bubbly!

But maybe fill up the glasses only half or a quarter full, since this is not actually a full glass victory.

Over the years, I have written a number of articles about chlorpyrifos in the wine industry.

Sold as Lorsban, the insecticide has a dark history—invented by war chemists in Germany before World War II)—and has been in the cross hairs of public health authorities since the 1980's.

For the last year data is available—2017—California wine grape growers used 49,417 pounds on 26,430 acres.

Why should we care about this dastardly chemical? And will banning its sale in the state end its use?

• In a pesticide hair testing study conducted by the Greens in Europe, it was found in 10% of the 150+ participants.

• It's linked by numerous scientific studies to neurological conditions—including damaging child brain development—and neurological diseases like Alzehimer's and Parkinson's.

• It contaminates water supplies in California where it's used (now mostly in the Central Valley, but it's been used in Sonoma, Napa, Monterey and elsewhere over decades. It's becoming increasingly popular on wine grapes in the Tulare region). A story published by Environmental Health News about the study conducted by Beate Ritz (an expert who also testified in the Roundup trials, but that's another story) published in Environmental Health Perspectives summarized the study's findings:
People drinking well water within 500 meters of a dozen or more of the pesticides had a 66 percent greater rate of Parkinson’s, the study says. Airborne exposure only slightly increased the risk. [Boldings mine.]
• It also pollutes the air. 

• It is highly toxic to bees.

Heard enough?

• In 2015, the EPA said it wanted to ban the pesticide, but the wheels of government moved slowly. Cal EPA issued a press release in 2015 expressing its concerns over chlorpyrifos and worker safety. Its report stated,
"We are concerned about some workers who mix, load and apply chlorpyrifos to agricultural and other non-residential sites...We are also concerned about workers who work around areas that are treated with chlorpyrifos as part of their jobs." 
When Trump assumed power he killed the proposed nationwide ban.


• Sustainable wine growers in the Wine Institute's Certified Sustainable Winegrowing program may use it but only during the first year of certification. (Why would this be allowed?) It is used to wipe out nematodes in replanting vineyards, controlling vine mealybugs and other uses. Basically, it's an exterminator.

• The California Association of Winegrape Growers, showing no compassion towards workers, residents or health officials (or the reputation of their industry) opposed the ban on selling it. According to an article published on Wine, the growers "and other agricultural organizations argued chlorpyrifos as another 'tool' in the farmers’ 'toolbox.'"


• No one can legally buy chlorpyrifos in the state of California, but it is available outside of California. While California is now on the road to banning its use, that milestone, if approved, is two years away, according to state authorities. They are moving to cancel its use after a period of transition in which $5.7 million has been allocated to help growers using it try other products.

For now, its use was not made illegal—only its sale—so it remains a restricted material.

That means county ag commissioners must issue permits for its use. While ag commissioners are able to grant or deny permits, they cannot actually deny a permit for a legal chemical and it is still legal to use chlorpyrifos.

Just ask the Sonoma County ag commissioner's office: they had to give Sonoma Cutrer a permit to spray it on 100 acres in 2017. "We can't prohibit it because it is legal to use it, even though it's restricted," a spokesperson for the office said. Locals were alarmed. And rightly so. There is no requirement to warn when spraying is approved or about to take place.

UCLA researchers have documented the problem of ag commissioners' reluctance or inability to stop the use of restricted materials, writing a report on ag commissioners' track records. Read their full report here or local news coverage here. Certain counties will be more or less likely to continue granting permits.



Gallo used 147 gallons of chlorpyrifos on 400 acres at its Two Rock vineyard.
Gallo sprayed 147 gallons of it over Gina Gallo's favorite Chardonnay vineyard, Two Rock, in Petaluma in 2015.

Sonoma Cutrer sprayed it on 100 acres in Sonoma in 2017. (Source: Sonoma County Ag Commissioner's public data—pesticide use report records—available from the county ag commissioner's office upon request).

Parents with children in nearby schools and homes are not required to be notified when the spray is used.


Laird Family in Napa (and Sonoma) has consistently used chlorpyrifos for years.

It is the largest land owner in Napa with 5% of the county's vines.

So why are Laird Family's wines sold even at Whole Foods in Berkeley? (You'll have to ask Whole Foods' wine experts or post on Whole Foods social media.)

Take a look at the second post on chlorpyrifos here to see maps of where wineries used it from 2000 to 2017 (latest year data is available)

Biggest Stories of the Year: Roundup Lawsuits, Fires PLUS New Sites Coming Soon!


There were several stories I didn't write about this year, but that were of major importance: the ongoing Roundup trials and the fire season in California wine country.

• Roundup Trials

Probably the most thrilling news of the year was the continuing verdicts against Bayer/Monsanto with the third case of cancer victims successfully suing the company.

The Pilliod case was tried in Oakland, and, living a 10 minute drive from the courthouse, I went to observe the day that the Pilliods were on the stand. I will confess, I was scared to death about the process. The jury was probably the most diverse I have ever seen, a real cross section of Oaklanders, from Latino to Asian to black to white and seemed to range over a wide spectrum of classes. I was proud of my town's diversity and inclusion.

But I have worried with each jury (and judge) I have witnessed because this material can be complicated and it would be easy for someone to get hung up about some misinformation, which is Monsanto's lawyers stock in trade. Happily the plaintiffs' lawyers did a fantastic job of presenting the material and educating the jury and this jurors came through with a $2 billion verdict, making headlines around the globe.

The Pilliods, lovely old grandparents from Contra Costa, presented their case quietly and modestly. The jury heard how they both gardened and used Roundup to kill weeds around the yard. Their attorneys showed pictures of Mrs. Pilliod spraying it at the base of the wooden raised beds where they grew vegetables in their suburban backyard. Mrs. Pilliod testified that she told her husband that Roundup was as safe as sugar water.

When they both got the same kind of cancer—non Hodgkin lymphoma—Mr. Pilliod thought that was strange since they did not have the same genetic makeup. That led to the hypothesis that it was their use of Roundup, which they also sprayed near the grandchildren (even when they were babies) when they were gardening at their retirement home.

While the couple were awarded billions, the judge knocked it down, which was required under legal guidelines. When all is said and done, after endless appeals, they probably will not get that much (and their lawyers will take two thirds or so of whatever they eventually do get), but the $2 billion sent shockwaves around the world, damaging Roundup's reputation and Bayer's stock took a beating.

The lowest point in 2019 for Bayer's stock was in June 2019, in the wake of the $2 billion Oakland jury ward in the Pilliod trial.
Prediction: Bayer will propose a mass settlement and Monsanto's top execs will not have to testify in court.

• Sonoma County Fires

Pity the poor wine tourism promoter in Sonoma County. How many years does it take to recover from constant national TV news running the same clip of Soda Rock winery ablaze over and over and over?

By Day Three, the local news had replaced the on the scene reporters in fire suits with a sexy babe reporter in an elastic, form fitting black dress meant to reveal all her curves. For a moment, you wondered if you were watching Fox News. Talk about finding a new angle to cover the exact same footage.

No other footage could match the Soda Rock flames for drama as most wineries did not burn and harvest was pretty much completed for most. And vines don't burn.

The really big story was about PGE, again, and its lack of appropriate maintenance, and the citizen upset over being forced to evacuate in case high winds spread the fire across the county. Nearly 200,000 people had to evacuate. Luckily smart fire fighting strategy was able to quell the fires and save whole towns from destruction. But it was scary and a close call. For people who had just rebuilt since the last fire, it was even more traumatic.

Sadly people and businesses suffered financial consequences that no one else will pay for, except out of their own pockets, given Trump's lavish love of California. The economic impact to Sonoma tourism in the past was serious enough that Healdsburg SHED shut down, as it said it couldn't compensate for the losses it suffered in the aftermath of the 2017 fire season. No one's talking in public about the impacts yet for 2019 and 2020.

Prediction: Sales of solar panels will soar as Sonoma residents and businesses prepare for the next fire season without relying on PGE. 

Governor Gavin Newsom is taking it all seriously, and we will see, in 2020, how that plays out.

 • The Pyrocene is Seen

For me, it was exciting to discover the work of Stephen J. Pyne, on what he calls the Pyrocene. Here's one of his latest articles and a very good read, while we all wring our hands over the fire apocalypse that is Australia.

Prediction: His books will become bestsellers.

• Good News: Slow Wine Book & Best of All: New Sites!

While I wrote less for the blog this year, I've been hard at work. During 2019, I was invited to write for Slow Wine Guide 2020 (coming in March 2020) about California producers and was promoted to Senior Editor. The book is published by Slow Food.

I visited 60 wineries in northern California and the guide expanded my experience of many wineries that do not have certified vines or do not farm organically. It's good to develop one's peripheral vision.

I also helped the guide expand its listings of wineries with certified vines, adding dozens of them. There are still some strange policies in place on how certification is included in the guide, and I hope Slow Wine's editorial staff in Italy will come up with better solutions than the current guidelines, which require a winery's output to be 100% organic or biodynamic for certification to be included. Most of the wineries with certified organic or biodynamic estate vines also produce wines from sustainable or conventional grapes, too, (they buy them) though they keep the lots separate.

The Slow Wine Guide finale was judging the final tastings for the guide's Great Wines, Slow Wines and Everyday Wines at a two day event held in San Francisco with all of the book's many authors. Bottom line: California is making a lot of great wine! It may sound like a "Duh" but it was gratifying to taste the results of decades of improvement.

It was an honor to be part of this team.

Secondly I have been working to bring forth new websites on organically grown wines as well as biodynamically grown wines and I've had the pleasure of learning about and interviewing many leading lights.

Round 1: Biodynamic Wines & Vines

This site launches next week.

You can subscribe now and be among the first to read the in depth winery descriptions, wine lists, and hot off the press articles. Launch articles focus on:

• Monty Waldin's top five biodynamic wines from Italy
• An interview with John Fagan, the leading glyphosate lab researcher in the U.S. who has tested more than 2,000 citizen scientists for glyphosate levels
• The three U.S. biodynamic wineries winning Top 100 awards from Wine & Spirits this year, a further sign that biodynamic wines, as a category, overdeliver
• Natural wines from certified biodynamic vines: four producers to know
• Natural Grocers: the first nationwide natural foods chain to go all in on organically and biodynamically grown wines
• Biodynamic Wine Decade in Review: the major accomplishments and milestones of biodynamically grown wines 2010-2019

Plus more to come on biodynamic cider makers, and much much more.

Subscribers get access to all this content PLUS two for one tastings at 12 wineries, discounts on wine and shipping. An amazing deal for just $25 a year...

Check it out at!