The Fish Friendly Farming Certification Program has enrolled over 200,000 acres of farmland in California including the majority of vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The Fish Friendly Farming program has now been benchmarked against SAI Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment version 3, at Silver Level. SAI Platform is a global non-profit organization working with its 150 members across the global food and drink industry to develop sustainable agriculture solutions through pre-competitive collaboration. SAI Platform aims to catalyze change and establish sustainable agriculture as a pre-requisite for doing business throughout the food and drink industry supply chain. Underpinning all of SAI Platform’s work are the Sustainable Agriculture Principles and Practices. These eleven sustainable agriculture principles provide a holistic framework and are interdependent, with best practices often benefiting several principles. These principles address: climate, land and soil, nature, water communities, legal compliance, livelihoods, working and living conditions, health and safety, markets and resources and animal welfare. They help SAI Platform prioritize activities and resources and form the foundation for the development of industry solutions and regional initiatives.
One of the industry solutions developed by SAI Platform is the Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA). It was developed in 2014 by the members, their suppliers, farmers, and external stakeholders as a tool for measuring and verifying on farm sustainability. It has been created and reviewed in keeping with the Sustainable Agriculture Principles and Practices. The Fish Friendly Farming Certification Program joins over 150 other systems, standards and certifications which have been benchmarked against the FSA. FSA 3.0 was released in April 2021.
The benchmarking process involves scoring against the 109 questions of the FSA, as well as a consistency check by a SAI Platform-approved independent expert. This benchmark is an endorsement of the value that the Fish Friendly Farming Certification Program holds for addressing sustainability concerns on farm. It means that for any farmer using the Fish Friendly Farming Certification Program, the crops that they grow can be recognized at FSA Silver Level. Moreover, by-products derived from a supply chain that were successfully Fish Friendly Farming certified can now also be sold as FSA equivalent.
Joe Iveson, FSA Manager at SAI Platform said: “Congratulations to Fish Friendly Farming on reaching FSA Silver Equivalence. This is a great achievement that reflects the certification’s commitment to promoting sustainable agricultural production.”
A project of the Napa-based nonprofit, the California Land Stewardship Institute, Fish Friendly Farming (FFF) certifies growers on management practices that protect the health of their local watershed and the community. First developed in 1997, the initiative has since grown to more than 1,900 participating sites in 15 counties. This expansion reflects the growing interest, both among consumers and winegrowers themselves, in sustainable management practices.
Laurel Marcus, Executive Director for FFF, admits that 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 and community are. It is a complex system, so you have to look at all the places a farm touches the environment that could cause an impact and how it affects the community and workers.”
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 a green initiatives element. They look at wells, which chemicals are used and make sure farmers have legal water rights.
All information collected by FFF during their assessment is put onto maps and templates which 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 farm plan. 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 other programs,” said Marcus. “It’s not just that a majority of vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counites are certified, it’s that they are certified to a very high standard.”
“Through our role as an independent, third-party certifier for Fish Friendly Farming, we are able to work directly with hundreds of growers to assure stream conditions are improved for steelhead and salmon through water quality and habitat improvements,” said Joe Dillon, Water Quality Specialist with NOAA’s National Marine Service.
The FFF program clearly resonates with Napa Valley grape growers. Julie Nord is the owner of Nord Vineyard Services and currently farms nearly 1,000 prime Napa Valley acres, selling grapes to over 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, workers and the environment.”
Constellation Brands, Wine & Spirits have had a long-standing association with Fish Friendly Farming dating back to early 2003. With over 1,800 acres currently certified against the program requirements, Fish Friendly continues to be an important contributor to ongoing sustainable practices across their Napa and Sonoma vineyard Operations. “Fish Friendly Farming has provided our Napa and Sonoma vineyard teams with a practical framework focused on environmentally-beneficial land practices that are supportive of local ecosystems and the unique environment in which we conduct our business” said Matt McGinness, General Manager, Global Environmental Sustainability, Constellation Brands Wine & Spirits.
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 explained. “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.”
“We are proud to have our vineyards certified Fish Friendly Farming, especially as the stewards of 360 acres in the Napa Valley as well as miles of the Napa River. I appreciate the rigor of Fish Friendly Farming’s scientific approach. From the environmental scientists on staff to the regulatory agencies they engage us with, every project and practice the California Land Stewardship Institute recommends is specific, results based, and enduring,” said Russ Weis, president Silverado Vineyards. He added, “Sustainability is all about making sure we celebrate more milestones like this. We will continue to rely on Fish Friendly Farming’s practical and visionary guidance as we work to preserve our land for future generations.”
The Fish Friendly Farming certification program not only benefits the local environment but is also a cost-effective, efficient management strategy for farmers. Because of that, local growers have been practicing revegetation efforts along local creeks and streams that provide for cool shade that helps benefit fish. In addition, the certification program calls for controlling erosion from roadways which improves water quality and stream flow. And it requires fish screens on all water diversions, legally approved water rights and conserving water in the vineyard. The program has implemented environmental improvements on more than 1120 miles of roads, 465 miles of creeks and 83 miles of rivers. The grower must also demonstrate they follow all labor regulations and wage requirements and work to improve their employees lives through training and advancement.
Fish Friendly Farming was previously associated with the Napa Green program of the Napa Vintners. However, the programs are now separate to better differentiate the environmental and social improvement certification of Fish Friendly Farming from the Napa Green marketing program.
A listing of wineries who have all of their lands certified by Fish Friendly Farming reads like a Who’s Who of the California Wine Industry: Treasury, Sterling, Beaulieu Vineyards, Beckstoffer Vyds, Boeger Winery, Provenance, Beringer, Robert Mondavi Winery, Trinchero Family/ Sutter Home, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Silverado Vineyards, Clif Family Winery, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Chateau Montelena Winery, Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Long Meadow Ranch, Hall Wines, Charles Krug Winery, Boisset Family Estates, Frog’s Leap Winery, Hess Collection, Saintsbury Winery, Schramsberg Vineyard, Silver Oak Cellars, Trefethen, Clos Du Bois, Simi Winery, Fetzer Vineyards, Bonterra Vineyards, Golden Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Duckhorn Wines, Francis Ford Copolla Wines, Foley Wine Group, Parducci Wines, Ridge Vineyards, V. Sattui and many others.