The Fish Friendly Farming certification program, designed to improve water quality and to restore and sustain habitat for federally-listed threatened species like Chinook salmon and steelhead trout has certified 90 percent of all Napa grape vineyards.,
Salmon and trout are considered indicator species because of their sensitivity to human-induced impacts to their environment. They are sensitive to changes in water quality, quantity, temperature, turbidity and aquatic food webs. The decline of salmon and/or trout in a creek or stream can give an early warning of decline in the overall health of the environment. By focusing on improving conditions for salmon and trout, Fish Friendly Farming (FFF) takes a comprehensive approach to environmentally friendly land management.
The Fish Friendly Farming Certification Program is for farmers who implement land management practices that restore and sustain fish habitat on their property and improve water quality. It is an incentive program that rewards farmers for practicing beneficial management practices to protect fish habitat over the long term. FFF works on all the land in the watershed from the top of the ridge to the edges of the estuary.
Laurel Marcus, executive director for FFF, says farmers have to comply with a complicated series of rules to achieve certification.
“It is a very detail-oriented program, but that’s the way the environment is,” she said. “It is a complex system, so you have to look at all the places a farm touches the environment that could cause an impact.”
FFF visits the farms and works with farmers to collect information on assessing erosion and native vegetation. They note how drainage systems work, how vineyards are winterized and perform a complete road assessment. There is a labor and work force element, a business practices element and green initiatives. They look at wells, which chemicals are used and make sure farmers have legal surface water rights.
All information collected by FFF during their assessment is put onto maps and templates that are read and accompanied by more on-site inspections by official governmental certifiers like the National Marine Fisheries Service and County Agricultural Commissioner. They inspect the site and can add requirements to the original report. The farmer gets a list detailing what they need to do to implement their farm plan along with a time frame to get the work done.
“Fish Friendly Farming has more rigorous standards and compliance is more difficult to achieve than many other programs,” said Marcus. “It’s not just that 90 percent of Napa farms are certified, it’s that they are certified to a very high environmental standard.”
Julie Nord, the owner of Nord Vineyard Services, farms nearly 1,000 prime Napa Valley acres, selling grapes to more than 60 ultra-premium wineries.
“Our winery clients are focused on sustainability and our impact on the environment,” said Nord. “Fish Friendly Farming gives us ongoing help about farming in ways that best protect the environment. Once they even helped us obtain a grant to work on an erosion project. Their certification guarantees our clients that we are up to date on the latest regulations and that our vineyard practices protect fish, waterways and the environment.”
The technical experts for FFF, with input from the growers, complete a Farm Conservation Plan: a comprehensive history and assessment of natural resources, agricultural lands and management practices. The plan is a strategy for implementing beneficial management practices and guides the improvement of projects for a specific property. Each plan is unique, addressing the features and needs of a particular property.
Matt Crafton has worked at Chateau Montelena since 2008 and was named winemaker in 2014. He worked with Fish Friendly Farming to obtain certification for the winery’s vineyards.
“Fish Friendly Farming is based on vetted science. It is a verified approach with clear-cut goals,” he said. “The team is very professional. They understand the farming, the viticulture, and they understand that the two goals of protecting our waterways and farming can be one and the same, especially with a high-quality, valuable crop like wine grapes. They do a fantastic job of making sure the practices that are beneficial to the fish are also beneficial to the vines, so you really have farmers and scientists and environmentalists all working together to the same goals.”
The Fish Friendly Farming certification program was designed to improve water quality in the Russian, Navarro, Gualala, Petaluma and Napa Rivers and Sonoma, Suisun, Putah, Salmon and Greenwood Creeks and other watersheds as well as the Sierra foothills and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
A listing of wineries who have all of their lands certified by Fish Friendly Farming includes Treasury, Sterling, Beaulieu Vineyards, Provenance, Beringer, Robert Mondavi, Trinchero Family/ Sutter Home, Joseph Phelps, Silverado Vineyards, Clif Family winery, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Chateau Montelena, Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Long Meadow Ranch, Hall Wines, Charles Krug Winery, Boisset Family Estates, Frog’s Leap, Hess Collection, Saintsbury, Schramsberg, Silver Oak Cellars, Trefethen, and V. Sattui.
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