The Rago family have been working their farm for over a hundred years. Combining traditional methods with the very latest modern technology, Rago epitomise sustainable farming. Growing baby leaf products and other salad crops in Battipaglia, Southern Italy. They are one of the largest exporters of Rucola (wild rocket) in Europe and the largest Italian grower of organic baby leaf. Rago joined LEAF in 2008 and became the first LEAF Marque certified farm in southern Italy in 2010. We caught up with Rago’s Michael Earley to get a fresh perspective on sustainable salad production in Italy.
Rago has been running for 119 years, that’s a long time! What’s the secret to your success over the years?
It all boils down to one thing. Anyone, anywhere on the farm can halt production or stop a shipment. Quality has always been of paramount importance to the family. Our products have our family name on them. We like to say, “It’s not business, it’s personal”.
How important is sustainable water use in Italy in general and to salad growers, in particular? How do Rago manage their water efficiently?
We are very fortunate that we have a very safe, secure water source. While most of the surrounding farms draw their water from close to the surface, we have a 125 metre deep well that was drilled through semi-permeable volcanic rock. We grow all our salads under tunnels, so we capture all the rain water and distribute it to other local growers in the area who use it for irrigation.
Wildlife is an important and valuable part of any farm. What measures are you taking to sustain and improve wildlife populations on your farm?
Wildlife is very important to us. We work very closely with local conservation and bird groups. We have installed many bird and bat houses of a variety of sizes for a very wide range of species. We have an ornithologist who visits us during each season to survey the farm and make suggestions on different habitats and ground covers. Throughout the farm we have installed many display boards with images and descriptions of the bird’s common to areas of the farm, for both workers and visitors.
You say that you are using the most cutting edge technology on your farm, often before anyone else has even read about it! What kind of technology are you using and what does the future hold for Rago and the industry?
We work closely with Italian manufactures in the design and testing of new equipment. We also work with local universities to study new species and growing procedures and have recently customized our drills to develop a new method of planting that has reduced problems with mould. In the pack house we have a wide array of new factory machines that are not yet on the market. Many of the UK’s largest pack houses have come to see our equipment and have begun to install larger versions in their faculties.
How has becoming LEAF Marque certified helped your business?
Being LEAF Marque certified has been very important to the business. It is seen as a benchmark for our environmental best practice. We have followed the ideals of LEAF for over a century. Our soil is black and rich, in contrast to our neighbours’, whose soil is grey or brown. Every summer we grow corn, sunflowers or beans which are turned into the soil improve organic content. We are always trying to give something back. We have taken care of our soil for over a hundred years and it has taken care of us as well. Many of our clients or potential clients are from the UK and knowing that we are a LEAF Marque certified farm shows that we are a cut above the rest!
You export fantastic salads and vegetables all over Europe. Are all your customers’ demands and wishes the same?
We supply many parts of Europe with our salads. The needs and wants are different in each place. The taste to the North and East goes to a more bitter flavour in salads, sweeter in the south. In Germany and the Netherlands they prefer their salads in punnets rather than bags so we have taken each region’s preferences into consideration when supplying to that area.
What are the main things your customers want from their salads and vegetables? Do you see them changing?
We are known as quality growers, first and foremost. Many of our customers have partnered with us because they know we provide safe and tasty products. We are very tight on our financial controls so we are able to keep our prices fair. With the ever increasing pressure on price from the supermarkets, we are finding more ways to cut cost without lowering quality.
You can find out more about Rago on their website at www.ragogroup.com
Images courtesy of Michael Earley.