Waitrose working to encourage sustainable food production
Nichol Farm in Teynham, Kent, is an organic apple and pear farm that has been supplying Waitrose for 17 years. Originally a conventional farm, Nick and John Moor moved over to organic production in the 1990’s as they were keen to farm with as little chemical assistance as possible. Nick and John’s trial work on minimising waste fruit on the farm by employing “fruit wall” systems, of scab-resistant varieties has seen an increase in the tonnage of fruit meeting the Waitrose standard.
There will always be an element of the crop that doesn’t make it, though, and for this reason, Nick installed a juicing plant to utilise those fruits that are too big, too small or too misshapen. It’s these fundamental changes to their practices that saw them awarded Waitrose Demonstration Farm status in the Waste Reduction category.
Following on from Nicks original Waitrose Farm Assessment, one area identified for potential improvement was energy usage, and since then, they bought the first 3-row sprayer in the country which has substantially reduced their energy use and carbon. The key challenge going forward is consistent size and quality of the crop: fruit walls and careful variety selection should help overcome these.
Oak Valley in Elgin, South Africa is a 4th generation apple and pear farm that has been supplying Waitrose for 5 years. The biggest challenge for sustainability faced by Farm Manager Ernst Heydenrych, as highlighted in version 1 of his Waitrose Farm Assessment, is sunburn: each year up to 50% of his Granny Smith crop is damaged by the sun, rendering it unsellable. In response to this, Ernst installed shade-netting, but took the opportunity to go further than anyone else had, and netted an entire 2.6 HA block. This fine mesh netting, which completely covers the top and sides of the block, not only reduced sunburn to less than 5%, but also means that pests cannot come into contact with the fruit, which as a result means that future pesticide applications will be drastically reduced.
It’s this radical approach to production that saw the farm awarded Waitrose Demonstration Farm status in the Waste and IPM categories. Ernst has plans to install hardware to allow the bare minimum chemical applications to be “misted” onto the crop rather than applied via tractor and sprayer. This will mean that tractors towing sprayers through the orchard will be a thing of the past.