There’s enough food today

04/05/2014 Comments Off

There’s enough food today to feed everyone,  2,800 kcal per person per day available in fact. It’s just that the system isn’t designed to feed everyone but instead to maintain the lifestyles of populations in certain countries as well as protecting the political and commercial interests of agribusinesses in the developed world.

Dilemmas, dilemmas

25/01/2013 § 2 Comments

The scale of the challenges of the New Model Orchard (NMO) project is dawning on me. Testing ourselves against the 5 Capitals Framework on every decision is already provoking serious debate. Latterly it has been down to the spacing of trees in the orchard.

Modern orchards are high intensity typically 3000 or more trees per hectare, more than double an old orchard. It allows more efficient machinery and agrichemical use and produces the yields which are (usually) financially sustainable today. However if we go for these very narrow rows we have to have special narrow orchard tractors, not much use for anything else on the farm. If the rows were wider we could use our existing pool of wider mid-range tractors and save on buying new manufactured capital.

Conversely agrichemical use, more efficient in narrow rows, represents the greatest carbon sink (see previous post on agrichemicals and the embedded carbon) in modern orchards so a point to narrow rows. Wider rows would perhaps allow inter-cropping increasing financial sustainability, however we would lose sward biodiversity which hosts beneficial insects reducing demand for agrichemical use. Another point to narrow rows.

Ultimately on this farm we have a strong field vegetable business, the more space taken up by orchards the less space for the veg. So it looks like sticking with convention this time – and the customers didn’t like the intercropping idea anyway. Although I still think free range chickens would love living in orchards, just don’t tell the customers.

New Model Orchard

21/01/2013 § Leave a Comment

Can modern commercial food production be truly sustainable?

Consumers are bombarded with ethical and environmental claims about the food they eat and the practices of those businesses bringing it to their table. The term ‘Sustainability’ is the claim of the moment and widely abused.

At the family farm on the north eastern tip of Essex we are embarking on a project to challenge whether apples can be grown commercially in truly sustainable fashion. The ‘NEW MODEL ORCHARD’ project will use the 5 capital’s framework to assess the sustainable use of environmental, social, human, manufactured and financial capital.

The ambitious project features a 1hectare planting of Opal apples and is being supported by partners Forum for the Future, the Chi Group, New Holland, Bayer, East Malling Research, Barclays, Oxford Biochar, More People, Mosscliff Renewables, Van Nifterik, EWT and many others. The orchard will be planted in February / March this year and an introductory event held in the Spring to bring partners and interested parties together to begin to develop ideas. The apples are ultimately destined to end up on the shelves of leading UK retailer, Marks & Spencer.

Key hurdles to overcome will be the large carbon sink presented by the use of agrichemicals, use of fossil fuels by vehicles and how to engage the local community. Not to mention achieving financial sustainability as the economic climate ensures retailers are unlikely to increase prices returned to farmers despite the significant capital investment required.

We will post regular updates and progress reports as the project unfolds.

Reducing Energy Use and GHG Emissions of a Commercial Apple Orchard

27/12/2012 § Leave a Comment

Engaged 383ppm in 2007 to complete a carbon footprint of their apple growing and storage processes, this was before there was a Carbon Trust standard so we worked closely with Carbon Trust to agree an approach and verify our findings and in 2008 we returned to implement some carbon reduction measures and to help communicate the work to a wider audience. Before we start a bit about Blackmoor:

  • Grower of Premium English Apples since the 1920’s
  • 100 ha Top Fruit orchards
  • Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco
  • Pack house & Fruit Nursery


Our work found agrichemicals (insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertililsers) to be the largest sources of carbon emissions. This is important because for a number of reasons (poor data from manufacturers, uncertain science) the emissions due to agrichemicals are probably the least understood or easily quantified.

Agrichemicals are the largest source of Carbon

Agrochemicals are the largest source of Carbon

Some varieties are a lot easier to grow than others and it shows in the carbon footprint. Cox is a more delicate fruit requiring more support during the growing season and needs more application of agrochemicals hence the greater emissions when compared to Gala.

Cox requires more support to grow successfully

Cox requires more support to grow successfully

Fruit grown on a traditional tree has a 40% greater footprint than one grown on a Trellis system. This simply down to yield per unit hectare – planting density 800 per ha in a Traditional orchard and 2,600 per ha on a Trellis orchard. Due to the flat geometry of the a trellis tree (fruit very nearly grows on the main trunk of the tree) whereas on a traditional tree you get significant branching before fruit is produced – this benefits the trellis tree as spraying is a lot more efficient and targeted. This means you apply the same amount of agrichemicals on ha of Trellis trees as you would on a ha of Traditional trees.

Trellis systems have significantly lower carbon emissions

Trellis systems have significantly lower carbon emissions

On the ‘Trellis’ Tree the fruit grows nearly directly on the main trunk so no energy is wasted growing extra woody material, additionally it’s a flatter 2-D structure making it easier and more efficient to spray agrochemicals and absorb sunlight.

Traditional Trees

Traditional Trees

Trellis System

Trellis System








Early Bird: Low Carbon does not imply High Tech

Fruit is cooler at daybreak than later on in the afternoon – less time and energy to pull down. Currently harvesting starts at 08:30, early bird would start at 06:00Field measurements show apples are around 9 °C at 06:00 and can reach 31°C in the afternoon. On a “typical” day pull-down times could be lowered by 21%, on a hot day by over 40%. Orchard managers should plan to use Early Bird using short term weather forecasts. Apples should go into storage as dry as possible the surface moisture is no greater at 6:00am than at 10:00am, in fact is probably less.

Early Bird Cooling Curve

Early Bird Cooling Curve

Best Practice: Often Low Carbon

Fruit is collected by pickers and put into fruit bins (circa 350kg) in the past empty bins were placed individually between orchard rows and collected again by tractors when they were full, you’d end up with tractors driving up and down rows all day, burning a lot of diesel and reducing the productivity of the picking team as they waited for a bin to replaced. The picking train an innovation introduced by Blackmoor before we started work in 2007 reduced diesel usage by driving a train of three bins very slowly between a row of tress as they fruit is picked, when the bin the three bins are full they are driven out again, all in a single pass of the tractor.. The electric vehicle in this picture is not usually part of the picking train it’s normally a diesel tractor. This EV was trialed as part of 383ppm’s work in 2008.

Electric Picking Train

Electric Picking Train

Marks and Spencer decided to take advantage of the work done and are using a unique label for apples from Blackmoor Estate. The label reminds the consumer about the great taste, that the apples are British and uses an uncontroversial element of the carbon footprint (Trellis) to make a low carbon claim and allude to the ongoing commitment of Blackmoor to reducing carbon.

Marks & Spencer Low Carbon Label

Marks & Spencer Low Carbon Label

Conclusion: A Meaningful Low Carbon Label

  • Transparent & Practical Analysis
  • Often Best Practice is Low Carbon
  • Well communicated commitment to innovation and continuous improvement
  • Focus on commercial benefits (cost and competitive advantage)
  • Taste & Nutrition are still the consumers top priorities

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