Chris

On Thursday evening we ventured up to Perth in Scotland for our annual Asda BeefLink meeting with our Scottish beef producers. The purpose of the meeting is to provide our farmers with an update on what’s happening in the beef market and in particular at Asda. It’s also an opportunity to discuss topical issues and take on board feedback from our farmers.

During the meeting Jim Viggars, Asda’s senior beef buyer, gave a butchery demonstration to the 100 or so farmers in the room, explaining how Asda’s investment of £2.5 million in a new butchery specification for top-side and knuckle beef joints will dramatically improve the quality of our beef joints and ensure an easy carve, top eating quality experience every time.

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Posted by Chris on 07 December 2009
Chris

The Great British Turkey continues to be sought after in our stores and our fresh whole birds – all of which are British – will land on shelves tomorrow. This year we’re selling standard, Extra Special free range Norfolk Bronze and organic birds and are on track to sell a record number of British turkeys this Christmas, 26% more than last year.

The standard birds have the red tractor and British Quality Turkey mark and the Extra Special free range are RSPCA Freedom Foods inspected.

While some people are having a go at us for selling a small volume of frozen turkey crowns that aren’t from the UK, this represents just 2% of our total turkey sales this Christmas and all are clearly labelled with the country of origin. The vast majority of what we’re selling – fresh and frozen – are from British farms and we will sell more than 750,000 British birds this Christmas, more than almost any other retailer and way more than many who sell 100% British. That said, we’ve already placed our order for next year’s Christmas dinner and will be selling 100% British turkeys across both our fresh and frozen ranges.

Posted by Chris on 17 December 2009
Chris

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Recently the composting debate in the UK has been focused on green and other waste recycling. The output, ie the compost, has had less attention. In South Africa the benefits from the use of compost can be seen in improving the soil structure and for water retention. Orchard waste (trimmed branches etc) are composted and used to improve the orchards. Some use straw on top of the compost forming a thatched roof to protect the soil.

It was striking to see the increase in earth worms under this system and the way the trees responded sending out roots into the composted areas.

Posted by Chris on 16 December 2009
Chris

The Asda Extra Special Turkey is from a special breed, the Bronze.

These are farmed in free range systems that give plenty of space to roam. So if you are looking for that special centre piece for Christmas, aim for a Bronze.

And here they are in their feathered finery on the free range farms.

Posted by Chris on 18 December 2009
Chris

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Apple and pear tree are not all that they seem. It is possible to ‘stick’ different trees together in a process called ‘grafting’. Nearly all trees, including those from garden centres, have been grafted. The most usual is to use a root stock – ie the the bit with the roots growing on – and graft on the fruiting variety. Very often this ensures that a tree doesn’t grow too large.

However in the video you can see where the original orchard’s variety has become out-dated and uneconomic. Rather than replacing the whole tree, grafts have been placed on the branches.

Also the trees are trained into particular patterns. This ensures that the right amount of light is received for the variety in question.

Posted by Chris on 20 December 2009
Chris

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Apples can suffer from excess sunlight and heat. The stress causes sunburn or sunscald.

The effect on the apple is surface discolouration and hence degrading of the fruit. This can be a severe loss to the grower. Hence the experiment here where two factors are being examined. Firstly, the use of nets over the orchard provides shade and should reduce the risk of sun burn. Secondly, different coloured net are being tried. As these let through different wavelengths of light, there maybe different responses from the apples.

Posted by Chris on 19 December 2009
Chris

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Asda, along with many other organisations, places a lot of attention on the use of agrochemicals. We have a requirement that growers are responsible with their use and justify the need for the application. We want growers to look for other control methods and techniques.

Biocontrol methods

As with other crops the South African orchard growers use biocontrol methods such as pheromone traps or disruptors. The traps lure the sexually active pests to a trap. The disruptors keep the pest so confused it is unable to complete the lifecycle.

Physical barriers are also employed. In the orchards the Snout Beetle causes surface damage to the fruit. An affected crop looks like a small drill has been used all over the fruit. This drastically reduces the value of the crop. The solution is a plastic wrap covered with sticky glue like substance to form a barrier.

Posted by Chris on 18 December 2009
Chris

It’s always difficult summarising experiences and observations when visiting a country. My first reaction is on the nature of South Africa itself. The sense of a country in transition where old European settler architecture is contrasted with modern development in Cape Town’s waterfront and the striking confirmation of the new represented by the rising football stadium being readied for the World Cup in 2010.

South Africa

Secondly, looking at the sustainability aspects of Asda sourcing, how much is being done. The use of technology in water conservation with composting and concentrated water applications resulting in greater water holding capacity and more concentrated root zones. The resulting water use reductions are impressive and allow more production from a given allocation of water. Mind, the complexity of control and hence the vulnerability to interruption is a balancer. As ever it’s a balance. And for those who are concerned by the energy requirement for water pumping, these frequent low volume irrigation approaches need lower power pumps than low frequency, high volume approaches.

The society is changing too. The changes in legislation have made all I spoke to have programmes on social equity and, interestingly, environmental. The water that flows through irrigation is regulated under a ‘national ownership’. Private dam construction is now prohibited and forest owners are being charged for the water their trees are removing rather than permitting to flow downstream.

So, South Africa was a revelation. The beauty of the countryside and its geography (I hadn’t realised how hilly it is). The vibrancy of the people and the food and wine culture was very impressive. And, as I hope you have been able to gather from these posts, the way the fruit and wine sector are appreciative of the climate change challenges they face and are addressing was striking. As other areas of the globe face altering rainfall and water catchment South Africa has much to offer in technology and learning.

Posted by Chris on 21 December 2009
Chris

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I had the privilege to travel to South Africa to review the way the farms we take produce from are looking at sustainability.

We can forget that, while we in the UK are looking at the impact of the way we live our lives, there is a corresponding effect on those who depend on our custom. South Africa has huge challenges on the way they address social and environmental issues.

So over the next week or so I’ll be posting a series of articles and videos on what I found. This first video shows some of the landscape of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain – look out for Robben island and the new football stadium on the coast.

Table Mountain was the first thing to strike me in Cape Town (other than the World Cup preparations). It frames the city. It’s part of a series of hills. These are pretty rugged and are a contrast to the valley sides and floors which are green with farming activity.

I was slightly confused by the combination of sunshine, warmth and driving on the right side of the road. The traffic was just like any other busy city, as were other details (skyscraper offices, buses, coffee shops etc). The city felt safe and I walked and used the bus system to get around.

Given I was visiting to talk about sustainability, perhaps it was no surprise that there was a lot going on around this. The produce sector (fruit and wine) has a strategy ‘Confronting Climate Change’ where producers have carbon calculators in operation.

One of the biggest carbon ‘hot spots’ on farm is water. This is due to the energy required to pump water for irrigation. Water is a scarce resource. I was shown narrow band irrigation to reduce the water requirement, soil management with compost and straw to reduce water loss and improve nutrient quality and water fertiliser combination to allow the trees to develop without water wastage and using lower power requirement pumps.

It would be remiss not to cover the social issues. You can’t avoid the townships on the edge of Cape Town. I saw the new social housing being built. I also saw the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programmes which are helping to address some of the inequities. Already BEE enterprises are supplying into the South African fruit processors and at impactful levels.

Posted by Chris on 14 December 2009
Chris

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Water isn’t everywhere in South Africa. The growth in farming has been supported by the construction of reservoirs that are filled with winter rainfall and then used for irrigation in the summer.

We are starting to be more aware of the water that we use and that are contained in the products and used by our lifestyle. However, on a small rainy set of islands this debate can seem a little academic (especially as at the time of writing I am surrounded by flooded fields and it’s still pouring down).

South Africa and similar countries are having to confront the water issue. South Africa has legislated as in effect nationalised water. It is no longer permitted to build private dams. Hence production is water limited and increases in productivity have to be allied to better water utilisation.

Posted by Chris on 17 December 2009