A EU Referendum: wine, or soybeans, or solar panels?

I’m sitting on a terrace on the borders of the Moselle, tasting some local wine. And looking out over the slopes along the Mosel, I come to a rather confrontational observation: we have deforested an enormous area, in order to be able to grow our wine… All the southern slopes here are filled with vines. As far as Germany is concerned, its about 100,000 hectares. But not only in Germany, of course. In all southern European countries, Spain as much as 900,000 ha, France 800,000, Italy 700,000 ha. [1]

And by the way, large amounts of wine grapes are also grown more north these days. To a total of 3.2 million hectares in the EU (about the same size as the land area of the Netherlands).

And we love it here along the Mosel and elsewhere, enjoying th e view of those slopes with their wine castles.

But then to realize that at the same time we are protesting and agitating against deforestation for soy beans in South America… grown elsewhere for our meat and related products.


The largest wine countries in the EU happen to be also the largest soy importers, not coincidentally perhaps, their own fertile land has already been taken over by wine….

The Netherlands is the exception, they are the largest importer, as far as soy imports are concerned. [2] In 2021, 6.7 million tons of soybeans, soybean meal and soybean oil entered the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam alone. Based on average global harvests, this volume of

soy required about 2.4 million hectares (Mha) of agricultural land,[3] (for reference, the Netherlands has about 1.6 million ha of agricultural land).

For the EU as a whole, that it was 20 million tons of imports in 2020, the result of 7.5 million hectares of production land, twice as much as for wine…[4]

So it would be a lot fairer if we would grow the soybeans here, and at least half could already be grown on previously deforested land here. Perhaps a bit far-fetched but I must think of slavery, where people worked for us before, cultivating land, that is we made (forced) others to work for us. While currently we are still making “other land ” work for us. So while we have abolished human slavery, we are still ‘enslaved’ to the land on which they worked. And still work, only now ‘voluntarily’. We do not force anything or anyone, but merely throw money around.

A first thought then is, let’s replace those vines with soy: then we still eat meat, but the impact of the industry would be halved: the vineyards replaced with Soy plantations. Deforestation in South America would stop, we relieve the rest of the world and take responsibility ourselves. We would still have soy for our meat industry, but with a clear conscience about deforestation.

But then, we may no longer have wine…. Of course that is not quite the intention: a piece of meat, but not a glass of wine with it… Why mot then keep the wine, and leave out the soy for cattle feed altogether… !? Its a choice between eating meat without wine, or eating vegetarian but with wine, so to speak. (We’ll leave out the ‘Beer and Barbecue Burgers “ for now…. )

But there’s another claim on the land todaty: We also want solar power. And so it’s actually not fair, to give a luxury product like Wine, that much space, while at the same time we take away new land for huge fields with solar panels… While we actually we already have the land for the panels. beautifully situated on southern slopes. We only have to replace Wine with Solar Panels in this energy transition, right? It won’t happen without sacrifices….

Calculating again” If we put solar panels on those vineyards, 3.2 million hectares , and conservatively calculated per hectare 1 million kWh, then everyone in the EU has 7000 kWh, per person even….*

All with the idea that we take responsibility ourselves, within the EU in this case, and have not passed the impact to the rest of the world ( and indirectly via climate change impacting ourselves again). We also want to become less dependent on foreign countries as the EU anyway, and bring production back here, right? But then, choices have to be made. So that actually comes down to a referendum in the EU with three choices: Do we want wine, do we want solar electricity, or do we want meat? That’s basically the essence of the problem. We can only use those southern slopes 1 time….

You can see the discussions before you. The medics spring into action, because alcohol is supposedly bad … so not wine anyway. Then the vegetarians, because the meat industry is humiliating, and very cruel to animals. So neither is soy an option. And then the system thinkers, because solar panels are not the solution anyway, and certainly not on land, there should be forests again. Ah yes, I forgot: that is the 4th option in the referendum: replant the forest and let it grow back, necessary for biodiversity and CO2 sequestration. Oh dear, if only we don’t run out of land… (we do…)[5].

What would Europeans choose, do you think? Soy (for meat), grapes (for wine), solar panels (for electricity) or forest ( for less climate impact and biodiversity) ?

I have an idea, when I look at the past: Back then they could also do without solar electricity, they didn’t have a meat “industry” either, but for more than 2,000 years forest has been cut down and wine grown and honored. They even had gods for it, think Bacchus and Dyonisos. I guess when the world collapses there will still be wine….

Then what about energy ? Well, a glass of wine by candlelight is kind of cozy, right? But then again, you don’t know, the BBB movement is on the rise, so maybe Burgers will opt en masse for Beer and BBQ, instead of wine and vegetarian. Both, by the way, by the light of burnt biomass.

I take another sip from my glass of wine, but have to conclude that Riesling is not really my wine. As far as I am concerned we can already replace all vineyards here along the Mosel. But then the question is still: with what …?



* The net yield is higher today, but this is a conservative assumption because of the energy that must be put into production panels and into construction of infrastructure. ( see also http://www.ronaldrovers.com/solar-panels-are-not-the-solution/ ).

And even then it is still a considerable production. Of course there are also combinations of land use possible, instead of monocultures, but that was not the subject here.

see https://www.nieuweoogst.nl/nieuws/2019/09/27/frambozen-gedijen-onder-zonnepanelen ,



[1] (Dutch) https://leclubdesvins.nl/wijnvraagbaak-hoeveel-kilo-druiven-heb-je-nodig-voor-een-fles-wijn/

and https://leclubdesvins.nl/wijnproductie-wijnconsumptie-2021/

[2] https://www.cbs.nl/en-gb/news/2020/40/soybean-imports-from-brazil-up-by-40-percent

and https://www.idhsustainabletrade.com/uploaded/2022/05/IDH-Soy-Monitor-2020-DEF-002.pdf

[3] https://www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-netherlands-stateless/2022/05/ce625c86-soy-trade-brazil-netherlands_nl.pdf

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/edn-20201119-2

[5] http://ronaldrovers.nl/eu-no-net-land-take/

Author: ronald rovers