Tag Archives: LEAF Marque farms

EISA Farm Visit to Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

Paul Hayward - Cold Harbour farm (credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward – Cold Harbour farm
(credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward, farms Cold Harbour Farm, at Bishop Burton, East Yorkshire and was one of the first LEAF Demonstration Farms, engaging people with Integrated Farm Management since 1993, soon after LEAF was founded. Paul recently took part in an EISA (European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture) visit to Germany and here he tells us more about what he saw and learnt.

Last month, I was privileged to join the EISA visit to Germany as an observer for LEAF along with Patrick Wrixon (LEAF Board member) and Nick Tilt (LEAF Demonstration Farmer). The whole event was perfectly organised by Andreas Frangenberg and Anton Kraus from EISA.

We attended the DLG field day, an event targeted at crop production professionals, of note it was targeted at the top 20% of farmers. The following link gives a very accurate resume of the visit.

IMG_1910 (3)

Credit Helena Elmquist

It was a fascinating visit with some excellent and very informative presentations and I left wanting to explore the issues much further. Representatives from the agrochemical companies seemed to position the farmers as requiring a complete production package including biodiversity rather than recognising them as land managers with good knowledge. We were privileged to be joined by Professor Olaf Christen (agronomy and organic farming) of Halle University, obviously a talented academic with a good practical understanding of European crop production.

The following day we were given a guided tour of the BASF Biodiversity Farm at Quellenhof by Dr Markius Gerber. A project started in 2012 on the 10, 600 hectare farm which had lost much of its natural habitats in the East German era. Work on a range of measures had started with some impressive results. However, with fields of 250 hectares, there is much still to do.


The group enjoyed a wide range of discussions, benefitting from the diversity of the area and the interests of individuals within the group.

For more information on EISA, please visit http://sustainable-agriculture.org/

Introducing… Avondale

Johnathan Grieve, Proprietor, Avondale Wines

Avondale is a family owned and family run South African wine farm located near Paarl in the spectacular Western Cape. The farm has been under cultivation for more than 300 years and prides itself in producing fine wines with care for the environment, using holistic farming methods.  Avondale have won numerous awards in recognition of their commitment to environmentally sensitive farming and were the first wine producers in South Africa to become LEAF Marque certified.  Here, we chat to Jonathan Grieve, Proprietor about wine, weather, water and ducks!

How did it all begin and what inspires you?
My family bought the estate in 1996 and at that stage it was very run down and farmed conventionally. I started working on Avondale in 1999 fresh out of studying fine art, I soon become aware that the conventional methods where not working as they preached. So I started to look at alternatives which lead me back to the natural way. As they say the rest is history and that was the start of our system that we call BioLOGIC®.

Avondale were one of the first South African wine producers to be awarded the ‘Biodiversity in Wine’ certification – what’s the secret of your success?
Well our approach to production is quite simple, we always ask the question; “Does Mother Nature approve?”, if the answer is yes then we are happy if no, we need to go back to the drawing board. We want a living natural self-sustaining system which only comes from a holistic approach.

Why LEAF Marque?
One of the main reasons is that we sell our wines and fruit in the UK market and naturally with all the initiatives that Avondale has in place LEAF made sense from an external audited standard. This way we can talk about what we do and it’s also externally validated.

You pride yourselves in taking a more environmentally-friendly, holistic approach to wine production.  What role does LEAF and Integrated Farm Management play at Avondale?
Well we believe our BioLOGIC® system goes a lot further than any conventional standard requires, we do every thing from nurturing the smallest bacteria in the soil, through to the largest animal we have on Avondale. It’s a true holistic approach; of course LEAF and IFM have certain structures that bring different aspects into focus from a managerial perspective which is very positive.

You have developed your own unique approach to viticulture called ‘BioLOGIC®’ – what’s it all about?
Well it’s all about creating living systems naturally, it has three basic pillars namely organise, biodynamics and modern science all combined to form a living system. For more in-depth information you can visit my blog on www.biologicwine.co.za

You practice slow wine making – what is it and why?
Well it’s all about firstly producing the best possible grapes full of flavour and expression of place and then the wine making needs to take this raw material and get it into the bottle and to the customer. We believe the only way to do this is in the natural slow wine making principles. So we make use of only natural fermentations with almost no additives (No acid, sugar, enzymes yeast etc.) We do much more warmer fermentations and because of the natural fermentations some of the wines can take up to six months to ferment. But this is really where all the flavour and mouth feel comes from.

At the end we want to produce wines that are very expressive from where they come from, not “Factory made”! Wines that express the soils, the climate and the place they are made, so when one of our customers open a bottle of Avondale it’s unlike anything else. That’s why we do it!

We produce extraordinary wines approved by Mother Nature!

Your ethos is Terra Est Vita, which means ‘Soil is Life’ – what does this mean in practice at Avondale?
Well it’s the base of everything, if you don’t have a living soil you will not have a living farm. So we start with a very integrated soil balancing system to “restock the pantry” from a natural broad spectrum nutrient perspective. This is because through broad spectrum nutrition you get plant heath less decease, less weed competition and ultimately a living as nature intended. Of course we use no chemicals at all on Avondale.

We also have a very integrated cover cropping system that we grow diverse mixes of crops throughout the year in the vines and orchards which chief goal is to feed the natural soil food web. Of course it also does a lot of other beneficial things such as nitrogen binding through legumes, natural tillage, erosion control and provides an environment for all the natural predators etc. to be in the soil and vineyard.

You control pests and diseases using natural methods. Can you tell us more about your approach and your famous duck posse?!
At Avondale we mimic the ways that Nature supports natural predators in the system so as to curb disease and regulate infestations.

  • At the micro-level we make use of two strains of beneficial bacteria to combat downy mildew and harmful worms.
  • When necessary, we release the predatory wasp known as the mealy bug destroyer to combat attacks by mealy bugs.
  • On the larger scale, Spotted Eagle Owls, Rock Kestrels, Yellow-billed and Black-shouldered Kites occur naturally on the farm and we have encouraged these birds of prey to do their work of rodent control where we need it most by erecting tall poles for convenient perching and owl houses in the vineyards.

Perhaps the most picturesque of our natural pest management methods is the employment of a posse of glossy white Pekin ducks who range through green vineyards on snail patrol. These ducks are entrained from young to voluntarily gather in the custom-made ‘duck-mobile’ and go out each weekday to do their work. Happily, they waddle between the vines and forage in the cover crops for snails. They are a highly effective and cost-efficient team who protect us from the damage that snails can do without having to resort to poisonous bait or the organically approved substitutes for snail control.

Have a look at the video to see the ducks at work

We have learnt from Nature that there are always better alternatives and we are constantly seeking new ways to strengthen the ecosystem as a whole, such as our current investigations into being an attractive environment for bats which do great work at moth control.

Photographs courtesy of Avondale via flickr

Introducing… Hugh Lowe Farms

With Wimbledon only days away now, we thought you would like to hear a little about how the strawberries for the event are produced. So here, we introduce Hugh Lowe Farms and Managing Director, Marion Regan. Enjoy!

Hugh Lowe Farms Ltd is a family owned farming company, established over 100 years ago. They are one of the largest fruit businesses in the UK, supplying many of the major supermarkets and have supplied strawberries for the Wimbledon tennis championships for more than 20 years. Hugh Lowe Farms have been members of LEAF for over twelve years and are LEAF Marque certified. We hear from Managing Director, Marion Regan about business, berries and bugs!

Marion Regan, Managing Director, Hugh Lowe Farms Ltd

Where did it all begin for Hugh Lowe farms?
My great grandparents began growing strawberries here in 1893 and the family has been producing them here ever since.

Your pride yourselves in growing top quality fruit with care for the environment, how does LEAF fit into your overall business philosophy?
We try to farm efficiently and responsibly. While quality is our focus, our natural environment is equally important to us – not least because we live and work here.

All your fruit is certified to LEAF Marque standards – what does this mean for your customers?
People all over the country trust Kent berries to be the best and the discipline of the LEAF Marque means this promise of quality is met.

A large proportion of your fruit is grown under polytunnels, why is this?
Not only is the crop protected from rain damage, but also from rots and moulds. In addition, the season can be extended and we can supply reliable volumes to the market every day from April until November.

Looking after the landscape and biodiversity means striking a balance between soft fruit grown under tunnels, arable fields resting in between soft fruit crops and land managed for wildlife. How do you get the balance right?
We have been doing this for over 100 years and have found it helpful to take a long term view – there is no benefit to exhausting the land nor removing the habitat for the many beneficial insects and other wildlife which live here too.

You’ve supplied strawberries for FMC the official caterers to Wimbledon for the last 20 years – why do the British love strawberries so much and what makes the perfect strawberry?
Luckily the Wimbledon Championships come at the traditional peak of the strawberry season, creating a long and happy association. Strawberries sum up the summer – and the perfect berry is sun-warmed, straight from the plant – we try and deliver the freshest fruit so people can be as close as possible to that experience!

Introducing… Rago

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.

Sustainable, Profitable Potatoes

Recently, Philip Case wrote for Farmer’s Weekly on the recent comments from Eric Anderson, senior agronomist at Scottish Agronomy, about the carbon footprint of potato crops. Urging potato growers to look closely at their carbon footprint, by paying close attention to water and soil management can pay dividends for crop profitability.

We know of several LEAF members doing exactly this. Whitewater Potatoes Ltd. supply their LEAF Marque potatoes to Walkers amongst many more, below you can see Gavin Janaway of Lodge Farm (Whitewater Potatoes Ltd.) talking about sustainable potato farming for the PepsiCo UK sustainable farming report 2010.

Another leading example is Jon Hammond, of T Hammond & Sons, a fresh produce grower on the outskirts of Nottingham producing potatoes among a variety of other crops. Using the LEAF Audit, they have been prompted into introducing trickle irrigation systems and seen a 30% reduction in water use.

T Hammond & Sons are currently planning a major development that will result in a fully sustainable manufacturing facility and fleet of vehicles that run on Bio Diesel.As Eric Anderson has pointed out, there are costs to be saved in looking at water and energy use, making a more profitable crop. The Hammonds have developed an energy policy which looks to save costs and reduce environmental impact. They’ve introduced boreholes and cold stores, use light sensors and produce a range of farm grown sustainable fuels to reduce their carbon footprint. They now run five vehicles and produce power for the packing plant on pure plant oil. Minimising environmental change is central to their business plan, of which LEAF membership, in particular the LEAF Marque, is key.

Producing potatoes, or any produce, sustainably is essential for the future of your business and for the environment. It’s a rising challenge which LEAF members like Jon and Gavin are tackling head on. Anthony Goggin, LEAF Marque Technical Manager, has recently been at some of the regional potato days and will be attending the East England and North England days in September – get in touch if you would like to meet up with him.