The poor condition of agricultural soils is attributable to multiple causes. Essentially the problem arose when we removed crops from their natural habitat and started growing them in monoculture. This approach led to a far-reaching optimisation of cultivation activities that also resulted in a massive development in agricultural mechanisation. As a result, productivity rose massively and we found that we were able to feed and more people. But this approach also has a flipside, which has become increasingly apparent in recent decades. As we grow crops under the unnatural conditions of ‘monoculture’ and biodiversity decreases, the agricultural system becomes far more sensitive to stress, particularly extremes of weather. Because crops stimulate specific interactions in the soil, biodiversity above ground (a crop) leads to diversity in the soil life. Restricted planting results in restricted soil life, so that the soil and the crop are less resilient when confronted with extremes of weather. When there is stress, pests and diseases can take hold in the crop. A wide variety of (chemical) crop protection products have been developed in order to combat those pests and diseases. In parallel with the development of this type of protection, the agricultural industry also saw the opportunity to further boost productivity with artificial fertiliser. Unfortunately this also has the unwanted side-effect that artificial fertiliser gradually breaks down the existing soil life and thereby stops natural mineralisation.
FreeSoil brings the diversity of micro-organisms that characterises a mixed culture back to a monoculture. The monoculture can thereby enjoy the benefits of mixed planting. In other words: FreeSoil introduces polyculture into a monoculture.
The recognition that we cannot continue along the path that we have taken for much longer is now being widely embraced by agricultural experts. As is the idea that the solutions must combine today’s knowledge and technology with the power of nature that has resulted from evolution.
Why FreeSoil in viticulture?
FreeSoil is a cultivation method that developed within the organic cultivation of grapes in the Netherlands. The ban on the use of copper sulphate and potassium sulphite and the restricted use of sulphur means that only a few vineyards in the Netherlands are certified organic. FreeSoil arose in one of these vineyards: Domein Aldenborgh in Eys. A stable cultivation method without chemical crop protection products and without using artificial fertiliser has been developed here over the past 10 years through a process of trial and error. We have managed to refine this system even further in recent years, so that we are convinced that we can offer a competitive cultivation system.
Viticulture generally has a bad reputation, particularly because of the high copper sulphate consumption. The high copper sulphate load has direct consequences for soil health, and according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) it poses potential risks to human and animal health. It seems likely that the use of copper sulphate will be heavily restricted in the near future, or possibly even banned entirely.
The rules for pesticide residues in food are generally becoming ever tighter. The development of smart software means that the pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables can now be measured very easily. The agricultural sector should view this as an incentive to switch to non-toxic, environmentally-friendly cultivation systems as soon as possible.