“Currently, more than 50 percent of our fresh produce is farmed this way and these new farming techniques will be implemented at all Woolworths produce supplier farms around the country, says Woolworths’ Chief Executive Officer,  Simon Susman. “Having realised several years ago that conventional farming methods were not sustainable and were, in fact, depleting the soil’s capacity to produce quality fruit and vegetables as its carbon and biodiversity content shrunk, Woolworths decided to work with our produce farmers to look for alternatives,” says Simon.

 

“Our agricultural experts have now spent three years developing the practices with our suppliers. Our goal here is to grow quality produce while minimising any negative effect on the environment and reducing farmer’s dependence on chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides. As any farmer will tell you, it takes good soil to produce good food, and without proper soil management now, South Africa will not be able to produce quality fresh produce in the future,” says Susman.

Conventional farming methods are increasingly not sustainable
Conventional farming methods extract minerals and nutrients from the soil, so over time, more and more fertilisers are needed. Fertilisers are basically mineral salts, so they also increase the salinity of the soil. As a result, even with additional expensive inputs, experience has shown that the volume and quality of crops decreases over time. In other words, it takes more to produce less. The goal of farming for the future is to do the opposite – produce more using less.

New methods improve soil and water quality and encourage biodiversity
Healthy soil also offers numerous benefits for the environment.

“When soil is healthy, it requires less irrigation because it is better able to retain water. It is also better able to bind carbon back into the earth, which helps mitigate against global warming and climate change,” says Susman, adding that soil erosion and loss of top soil are also reduced. “Healthy soil also requires fewer chemical interventions, so these techniques also reduce chemical run-off into water systems, helping to maintain the quality of our water,” says Susman.

No extra cost to consumers
More good news for South African consumers is that producing produce using farming for the future methods costs no more than conventional farming. In fact, while yields and quality are more consistent, input costs for fertilisers and the lower necessity for agro-chemicals can reduce costs.

How does Farming for the Future compare with Conventional and Organic Farming?

 

Conventional

Organic

Farming for the future

 

Farming philosophy

Focus is on yields and artificial inputs only

Farming that follows organic principals

Combining best of organics with the best of conventional farming

Over time, reduces dependency on conventional methods

Soil fertility

 

Uses artificial fertiliser, within prescribed limits

Adds compost and organic fertiliser to soil

Adds compost and organic fertiliser to soil

Only adds artificial fertiliser when necessary to correct levels of plant nutrients. Farmers’ dependency on artificial fertilisers will decline

Chemical

Pesticides and herbicides

Added within legal limits

Organically certified chemicals, herbicides or pesticides (IFOAM)

Only when necessary to control unwanted insects or disease, and restores balance

Farmers’ dependency will decline

Yields and Availability

Yields and availability depend on ever-increasing inputs

Inconsistent yields and limited availability

Aim to improve yields and availability

Measurement

Certified Globalgap

Certified Organic

Baseline audit in 2007

Continuous improvement based on ongoing measurement

Each farming decision based on measurement

Date: 20th January 2011

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