Can You Combine Sheep Farming With Winemaking? These Two Vermont Friends Are Going to Find Out
By Lindsay Campbell
They're an unlikely pair, but Vermont friends Ethan Joseph and Michael Kirk have managed to devise a partnership that combines their two separate working worlds.
Joseph, a winemaker, and Kirk, a shepherd, are the faces of the state's first agricultural initiative exploring the fusion of sheep with viticulture.
According to Kirk, he and Joseph have long had aspirations for a venture that utilizes their professional resources in the most efficient way possible.
"A lot of agricultural systems have become compartmentalized and separated, so we thought – let's see how we can integrate," Kirk said, who runs Greylaine Farms with his partner Marion Bourgault-Ramsay in Charlotte, Vermont. "We're bringing attention to integration of two agricultural endeavours that people have never thought of. No one is doing this around here."
This idea to blend their fields will be observed in a federally funded study with the University of Vermont.
The arrangement allows for Kirk's sheep to graze the vineyard, with the expectation that they will eat away at unwanted vegetation
The catalyst that launched the initiative was an Instagram photo of Dr. Meredith Niles, a food systems scientist and assistant professor at the university who was captured conducting research with sheep farmers in New Zealand last fall.
Niles is an experienced researcher who is specialized in the integration of sheep into viticulture production.
The duo decided to contact Niles to see if she would be interested in helping make their dream a reality. With her assistance they applied for a grant, successfully receiving money through the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.
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Sheep in the vineyard? 🐑 . Meredith Niles, UVM Food Systems assistant professor, is co-founder of an international research team studying the benefits of integrating of crop and livestock systems. The team met last week in New Zealand where they're integrating sheep into vineyards to reduce environmental impacts and improve economic well-being for farmers. #UVMCALS #UVMResearch #instauvm
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"It just kind of fuelled the fire to get us really acting on it," Kirk said. "I think we were probably going to do something regardless, but it was nice to have further incentive and a professor who has done the study side of work to get their expertise."
The project began in mid May when five of Kirk's sheep were relocated to Shelburne Vineyard, in Shelburne, Vermont.
The sheep graze the vineyard during its dormancy period to feed on the vegetation between and under vines. They're also contained within approximately ¼ acre paddocks that are moved daily or every other day.
Through assigning the sheep to specific areas, a comparison can be made to those areas that are untreated. Researchers will examine the soil, the foliage, the grapes, the sheep and even the thoughts of Shelburne's customers on the unique system integration.
In New Zealand, where this is a common practice and where Niles has done a large bulk of her research, the sheep are placed in the vines from May until September because of the climate.
However, the farm animals in Vermont were used from May until June before the vines got long enough for the sheep to be able to reach and chew on them. They will make their return from September until October for the harvest season.
Michael Kirk's sheep were placed in small paddocks on the Shelburne Vineyard where they munched on vegetation surrounding the vines.
Along with the fact that the project is the first of its kind in Vermont, a state with an exceptional climate, Niles said the study is also incomparable to past research in the field because of its multifaceted approach.
"There's some studies out there that look at the ecological aspects of this or the labour component and the economic component, but to integrate all of this together in one study is pretty unique," she said. "The research does show that there are a lot of benefits, but there are also challenges and trying to look at the whole system in one study will really help uncover where those trade-offs might be."
With Niles' research, she was able to prove ecological and economic benefits combining sheep farming with winemaking, as well as an improvement of farmers' livelihoods.
New Zealand farmers were able to save $56 USD per hectare in herbicide applications and roughly $64 USD per hectare in mowing.
"Think about the reduction in fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions from mowing and the [reduction in] labour costs from that," Niles said. "And then fewer herbicides and chemicals in the environment because the sheep were able to eat the weeds that the farmers had in their viticulture system."
While currently the Vermont pilot project is only funded for one year, Joseph said he's talked to Niles and Kirk about possibly expanding it and using more sheep to cover the vineyard's entire 20 acres in the future.
"I just wanted to have some sheep in the vine," he said. "This is looking like it could turn into a multi state or regional project… There's a lot more vineyards in Vermont that are excited by this."
Though the results of the study won't be ready until the end of the year, Joseph, who has monitored the sheep on the vineyard, said he's noticed some correlation to his experience and the benefits outlined in Nile's New Zealand research — like boosted morale and reduced mowing.
"They're super cute animals, they're out there doing positive things to the vineyard. It just felt good to have them out there," he said.
And Kirk, who said he was grateful his sheep were able to provide some value to his friend's business, believes that the arrangement holds more advantages than what they've currently discovered.
"If anything, this tells a great story. It's exciting for agri-tourism. It can provide more of a draw for people to visit his vineyard, see our sheep and then just learn about animals and understand," he said. "We farm the way we farm for many reasons and I hope those benefits that we see on our land can be expanded upon or taught."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Tropical Storm Josephine Also No Threat to Land<p>Meanwhile, the season's record-earliest tenth named storm, Tropical Storm Josephine, was also struggling with high wind shear as it traced out a path over the open ocean.</p><p>At 5 a.m. EDT Saturday, Josephine was located about 310 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 15 mph with top sustained winds at 45 mph. Josephine is expected to bring one to three inches of rain over portions of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico over the weekend. Josephine will encounter steadily rising wind shear through Monday, peaking at a very high 30 – 35 knots. This high shear is likely to destroy Josephine's circulation by Monday, before the storm can affect any other land areas.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/08/tropical-storm-kyle-forms-unlikely-to-affect-land/" target="_blank">Yale Climate Connections</a>. </em><em></em></p>
By Ute Eberle
In May 2017, shells started washing up along the Ligurian coast in Italy. They were small and purple and belonged to a snail called Janthina pallida that is rarely seen on land. But the snails kept coming — so many that entire stretches of the beach turned pastel.
The Ligurian coast has been swept by snails turning its color pastel.
A World Between Worlds<p>The neuston comprises a multitude of weird and wonderful creatures. </p><p>Many, like the Portuguese man-of-war, which paralyzes its prey with venomous tentacles up to 30 meters long, are colored an electric shade of blue, possibly to protect themselves against the sun's UV rays, or as camouflages against predators.</p><p>There are also by-the-wind sailors, flattish creatures that raise chitin shields from the water like sails; slugs known as sea dragons that cling to the water's surface from below with webbed appendages; barnacles that build bubble rafts as big as dinner plates; and the world's only marine insects, a relation of the pond skater.</p><p>They live "between the worlds" of the sea and sky, as Federico Betti, a marine biologist at the University of Genoa, puts it. From below, predators lurk. From above, the sun burns. Winds and waves toss them about. Depending on the weather, their environment may be warm or cool, salty or less so.</p>
Sea snails can make up the neuston.
Velella velella jellyfish living on the surface of the ocean.<p>But now, they face another — manmade — threat from nets designed to catch trash. A project called <a href="https://theoceancleanup.com/" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a>, run by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, has raised millions of dollars in donations and sponsorship to deploy long barriers with nets that will drift across the ocean in open loops to sweep up floating garbage. </p>
Collecting With the Current<p>"Plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. To us, that future is unacceptable," <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/green-entrepreneur-sets-sights-on-great-pacific-garbage-patch/a-38855785" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a> declares on its website.</p><p>But Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, and one of the few scientists to study this ecosystem, fears that The Ocean Cleanup's proposal to remove 90% of the plastic trash from the water could also virtually wipe out the neuston.</p><p>One focus of Helm's studies is where these organisms congregate. "There are places that are very, very concentrated and areas of little concentration, and we're trying to figure out why," says Helm.</p><p>One factor is that the neuston floats with ocean currents, and Helm worries that it might collect in the exact same spots as marine plastic pollution. "Our initial data show that regions with high concentrations of plastic are also regions with high concentrations of life."</p>
Waste collection in the Pacific Ocean heralded by The Ocean Cleanup.<p>The Ocean Cleanup says Helm's concerns are based on "misguided assumptions."</p><p>"It's true that neustonic organisms will be trapped in the barriers," says Gerhard Herndl, professor of Aquatic Biology at the University of Vienna and one of project's scientific advisors. "But these organisms have dangerous lives. They're adapted to high losses because they get washed ashore in storms and they have high reproductive rates. If they didn't, they'd already be extinct."</p><p>Helm says they just don't know how quickly these creatures reproduce, and in any case recovering from passing storm is very different from surviving The Ocean Clean Up's systems which could be in place for years.</p>
Communication Breakdown<p>The Ocean Cleanup invited Helm to a symposium on the topic in December, where both sides presented their points of views and didn't seem to find much common ground. Since then, direct communication between them has stopped, says Helm. "They're not interested in talking to me anymore."</p><p>Both sides agree that much is still unknown about the neuston. But one thing that has been established is that most of the oceans' fish spend part of their lifecycle in the neuston. "More than 90% of marine fish species produce floating eggs that persist on the surface until hatching," Betti says.</p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has undertaken one of the few studies into this ecosystem, collecting data on the neuston on the relative abundance of neuston and floating plastic debris in the eastern North Pacific Ocean during a 2019 expedition to the Pacific Garbage Patch, an area where plastic pollution has accumulated on a vast scale. But it is not yet sharing what it has found. The information was being prepared for publication in an as of yet unspecified journal, probably some time next year, an Ocean Cleanup spokesperson said. </p>
Inshore Solution?<p>Helm believes the best way to tackle the marine plastic problem would be to position the barriers closer to land — across river mouths and bays — to catch garbage before it reaches the sea.</p><p>"Stopping the flow of plastic into the ocean is the most cost-effective — and literally effective — way to ensure that it's not entering our environment," she says. </p><p>As for the plastic already floating in open waters, she does not believe it is worth sacrificing parts of neuston and wants to see more research first. </p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has made barriers across rivers a part of its mission. But it is also going ahead with its original vision of pulling trash from the open water. In late 2018, the project deployed a 600-meter, u-shaped prototype net into the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Great Pacific Garbage Patch</a>. </p><p>The system ran into difficulties, failing to retain plastic as hoped, and needing to be brought shore for repairs and a design upgrade, after which Ocean Cleanup says it gathered haul of plastic that it will recycle and resell to help fund future operations.</p><p>Over the next two years, the project hopes to deploy up to 60 such barriers to collect drifting flotsam. Helm isn't the only one concerned about these plans.</p><p><span></span>"We should think twice about every action we take in the sea," Betti says. "In nature, nothing is as easy as we think, and often, we've done a lot of damage while trying to do a good thing."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.<a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2646992655#/" target="_self"></a></em><em></em></p>
By Hope Dickens
Molly Craig's day begins with feeding hungry baby birds at 6 a.m. The birds need to be fed every 15 minutes until 7 at night. If she's not feeding them, other staff at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn, Illinois take turns helping the hungry orphans.
By Douglas Broom
"Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people," said former U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt.
So the FAO is using Twitter to remind the world of these five hidden benefits of forests.
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