Fresh Food Future draws together a number of initiatives to address two main objectives with the help and guidance of our trusted partners:
The Woolworths Fresh Food Future Program is an ongoing investment to fund and promote new projects that improve the sustainability of the food supply chain. For more information please go to www.freshfoodfuture.com.au
We sincerely thank our fantastic partners: Landcare Australia, Nuffield Australia, Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) and The Horizon Scholarship.
In partnership with Landcare Australia we have funded over 180 farming projects across Australia focusing on farming innovation, sustainable farming and increasing productivity and efficiency.
In partnership with Nuffield Australia we have provided scholarships for best in class primary producers to join the prestigious Nuffield study program and further their professional development.
With Australian Rural Leadership Foundation we have funded a number scholarships for rural Australian demonstrating great leadership potential.
We sponsor the Horizon Scholarship which aims to support the next generation of agricultural leaders through their university studies, who will take up the challenge of farming for the future. It is for young people who are passionate about agriculture, with a keen interest in the future of our industries and who are ready to expand their networks and learn new skills.
The system sterilises used hydroponic water that, in the past, would have been dumped and redirects the clean water back into the hydroponic system or out onto field crops. More than 70 per cent of the carbon pollution generated by vegetable growing stems from the use of electricity and fertiliser. Because Ray now only has to extract one lot of bore water to produce up to three crops, he is saving significantly on these resources, as well as on water. It makes a big difference to the carbon footprint of vegetable production.
Ray Bertinazzi expects to reduce his annual fertiliser costs by up to 40 per cent and his water use by seven megalitres by using recycled nutrient water from his hydroponic vegetable enterprise to irrigate his field-based bean operation.
Funded by a Woolworths Fresh Food Future grant, administered by Landcare Australia, the Bertinazzi recycling project will deliver environmental and financial benefits to the family-run vegetable operation.
Ray, his wife Nancy and son Bradley own and operate Bratasha Farm on the Queensland–NSW border about 2.5 hours south-west of Brisbane. The farm incorporates a field and hydroponic enterprise that supplies fresh vegetables year-round to Woolworths.
Bratasha Farm has been supplying Woolworths since they established more than 18 years ago. They produce beans from a 200 hectare field operation, and Asian vegetables, baby cos lettuce and shallots from a 2ha hydroponic system.
The Bertinazzis set up the hydroponic system in response to a series of drought years and the rising input costs associated with their field-based operation. “We wanted to iron out some of the risks associated with the poor seasons and better control our inputs, which the hydroponic system enables,” Ray explains.
After an initial outlay, hydroponic systems are relatively cost-effective to operate. They have fewer pest and disease problems and need less chemicals and water than field-based operations.
The grant has been used partly to engage an irrigation consultant to develop a system to store and treat Bratasha Farm’s waste hydroponic water so that it can be re-used, either in the hydroponic enterprise or to irrigate the field-based bean operation.
“We have sourced water treatment technology from the Netherlands, which has a long established hydroponic industry and world-leading expertise in waste water recycling,” Ray says.
Ray will install a 100,000-litre storage tank and pumping system to collect the used hydroponic water after each six-week vegetable growing cycle. The water will be treated using ozone and infrared technology to remove any water-borne plant diseases, such as pythium and phytophthora root rots.
Bratasha Farm is accredited within the strict Woolworths quality assurance process, which requires regular testing of vegetables, and irrigation and hydroponic systems, for food safety factors such as parasites and nitrate levels.
“Until now, our waste hydroponic water has been pumped into holding dams and not re-used,” Rays says. “The recycling system will enable us to use the water and nutrients that would otherwise be discarded to grow another crop, which represents substantial savings in fertiliser and water.”
Water will now be used two or three times, and Ray calculates that the recycling system will reduce the farm’s annual water use by seven megalitres and save him up to $15,000 a year in fertiliser.
Rising input costs, particularly for fertiliser, are placing continual pressure on Bratasha Farm’s bottom line. Although the farm is not large enough to be taxed directly under the Australian carbon pricing scheme, Ray anticipates that his costs will rise as electricity, fertiliser and transport costs flow through to the farm from elsewhere in the supply chain.
“Anything that can help us become more efficient is of huge benefit to the viability of our business. Nutrients in our hydroponic system alone cost us $5000 each month,” he says.
Following treatment, nutrient levels in the recycled water will be assessed and adjusted to match the requirements of the hydroponic system or the field-based bean crops.
Nutrient, electrolyte and pH levels are pre-set and adjusted automatically within the hydroponic system. For the field crop, soil and sap tests will be used to determine how much nutrient is being delivered by the recycled water and what field applications are needed.
Ray believes the Bratasha Farm recycling project will also deliver environmental benefits. “Where previously we were pumping bore water for each vegetable crop, now we will only pump one lot of bore water to produce three cycles of vegetables. This will mean we are using less electricity and generating less carbon pollution.”
The anticipated 30 to 40 per cent reduction in fertiliser use will further reduce the farm’s carbon footprint, which will be monitored once the project is fully established.
Ray used the Vegetable Carbon Calculator to determine Bratasha Farm’s carbon footprint before the project was established, and he will assess his footprint again once the recycling system is in place and fully operational. Developed by Horticulture Australia, the Vegetable Carbon Calculator is used across the vegetable industry to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions of on-farm vegetable production systems.
Electricity use associated with the pumping of irrigation water and nitrous oxide emissions from nitrogen fertiliser account for 70 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions from the Australian vegetable industry. A field day to demonstrate the environmental and commercial value of the Bertinazzi water recycling system will be held during 2013.
“It will be interesting to see how much our emissions have fallen once we are using less electricity and fertiliser,” Ray says.
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The Cook’s Myalls Landcare Group is trialling a range of subtropical perennial grasses, supported by a Woolworths Fresh Food Future grant administered by Landcare Australia. Between them, the 21 group members operate 15,000 hectares of mixed farming country just west of Parkes. Their pastures are traditionally based on clover and lucerne mixes.
Recent extended dry periods and summer storms have prompted group members to seek new grass species that provide good ground cover, catch and respond to storm rain, and contribute to year-round quality feed for livestock.
In the Parkes district of central west NSW, a group of farmers is looking to use perennial pasture species to improve the profitability and sustainability of their mixed farming operations.
The 21 farming families in the Cook’s Myalls Landcare Group have collaborated for more than 20 years to meet the challenges of changing climatic conditions, and to accelerate grazing and livestock productivity.
Their properties, spanning 15,000 hectares, are in the upper reaches of the Gunningbland and Milpose Creek catchments, which have the potential to cause problems with dryland salinity as summer rainfalls increasingly arrive as storm events.
The average property size among group members is 850ha, and all have a mixture of cropping and livestock.
Cook’s Myalls Landcare Group member Christopher Cole says mixed farming systems in the region are evolving to incorporate dedicated paddocks for grazing and – with increasingly tight margins – these need to be highly productive.
“We need pastures that harvest storm water, respond quickly to rainfall events and provide a reliable bulk of feed, adequate groundcover and competition to avoid broadleaf weed establishment,” he says.
In 2009, a Woolworths Fresh Food Future grant of $11,000, administered by Landcare Australia, provided seed funding for the group. They set up a perennial pasture trial of 20-hectare plots on eight properties across the catchment. Three years on and the performance of grass species Katambora Rhodes, Premier digit and Bambatsi panic continue to be assessed at each site.
The species mix is matched to soil type. On heavier soils, farmers use a 50 per cent digit and 50 per cent panic grass mix. On lighter soils, they switch to an 80 per cent digit, 15 per cent Rhodes and five per cent panic grass mix. Species selection, mix and the fertiliser regimen are based on soil tests. Seeding rates are four kilograms per hectare.
The group is finding that establishment of perennial species relies on good pre-seeding weed control, a maximum sowing depth of 6mm, and sowing along with fertiliser and before early summer rains.
“The persistence, plant density and ground cover of the perennials in the trials are far exceeding our expectations,” Christopher says. “These pastures are providing high-quality summer feed, good ground cover and bulk dry feed to fill a winter feed gap, when supported by undersown clovers.”
Christopher says a plant density of about six plants per square metre is needed to achieve the goal of constant minimum ground cover of 80 per cent, pasture lengths higher than 3cm, and 50 per cent more pasture availability than with volunteer grasses and clovers. He says indications to date suggest this goal is achievable, but whether this level of cover will continue as plants mature remains to be tested.
The use of perennials in the system allows lucerne paddocks to be deferred from grazing to recover and this provides additional ground cover across whole farms throughout the year. Christopher says the next step is to evaluate mixing the subtropical perennials with winter-active lucernes to see if they can be compatibly established, paving the way for year-round green pasture grazing. A more reliable and sustainable feed base could increase livestock carrying capacity by as much as 30 per cent.
On his own 640 ha beef and cereal cropping property, Christopher has sown 80 ha with a mix of Katambora Rhodes, Premier digit and Bambatsi panic grasses.
“We are using pasture mixes of lucerne/clover and subtropical/clover on areas that have the potential to become saline,” he says. “The perennials use water efficiently before it rises to the surface, turning a possible problem into productive pastures for livestock.”
During winter, the subtropical pastures have a high proportion of litter at ground level which, coupled with legumes in the mix, should help build soil microbial activity and nitrogen content. In the longer term, the grazing system should produce more quality feed but take fewer nutrients out of the soil. This will lead to more sustainable meat and wool production.
Garry O’Brien, who runs a 2430ha mixed wool and cropping property with his parents Tim and Judy and brother Tim, has 32ha of perennials providing valuable carry-over feed in the winter months.
The family’s mix of 45 per cent Bambatsi panic, 45 per cent Premier digit and 10 per cent Katambora Rhodes grass sown three years ago has persisted well and thickened up.
This winter the perennials, undersown with clover, will support 400 lambing ewes for up to three months. This provides extended green feed and fixes soil nitrogen for the grasses to access during the next summer.
“Over summer the perennials respond really well to soil nitrogen and storm rain events and are left ungrazed and allowed to bulk-up,” Garry says.
“They then act as a standing hay stack of dry feed during winter… The system works well and using clover in the mix cuts our urea inputs and costs.”
Garry says there has been a slight increase in lambing percentages and survival rates because of the wind protection offered in winter by the perennials, which can stand at more than one metre high.
Brett and Tina Jones are also enjoying success with perennials on their wheat and sheep property. In the first year of their 20ha trial plot, it supported 500 lambs for two months just two months after sowing. After two months grazing by the lambs, the perennials were still producing five tonnes per hectare of quality dry matter for stock feed.
This year Brett is sowing clover into the paddock of perennial grasses and will set up a cell grazing system to increase pasture utilisation.
Cook’s Myalls Landcare Group members will monitor grazing productivity at the eight trial plots in the district this winter and, for the first time, will measure levels of carbon sequestration by the subtropical and legume plant mixes.
“If we can continue to develop high-quality, year-round sustainable pastures, consumers will benefit by being able to buy a higher-quality red meat product that has a low carbon footprint,” Christopher says.
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Three watermelon producers in three Australian States are submitting their farms to a thorough analysis to determine how they can increase melon production while reducing carbon emissions. Each farm is measuring the total amount of energy used to grow melons - from sowing the seed to irrigating, feritilising, harvesting, refrigerating and transporting the melons to market. The results will reveal energy wastage 'hotspots' in the melon production systems, showing the producers where they can implement new technology and production methods to save energy and decrease pollution.
Australian watermelon production could become more profitable and sustainable through a project aiming to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
Driving the project is Robert Gray, general manager of the Harvest Company, which has been supplying Woolworths for more than 30 years and markets 40,000 tonnes of seedless watermelons each year. The melons are grown by Select Melons Australia, a group made up of about one-third of Australia’s melon growers.
Robert says the goal of the project, funded by a Woolworths Fresh Food Future grant administered by Landcare Australia, is to develop ways for growers to produce melons more efficiently while reducing carbon pollution.
“What we want to determine is where in the system energy efficiencies can be made and then implement new production methods to optimise energy and therefore carbon use, Robert says.
Three watermelon producers – in the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales – are involved in the 18-month project that began in April 2012. Findings will be made available to all growers associated with Select Melons Australia.
Queensland producer Darryl O’Leary expects the project to be of enormous benefit to growers. “The information generated will help us understand the potential to produce more melons from the same area of land, while reducing any negative impacts we might be having on our environment, he says. “We’ll also get, for the first time, an accurate understanding of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions being produced per kilogram of melon.
To reduce the carbon pollution associated with watermelon production, the group first needs to measure carbon use throughout the melon supply chain and determine where production efficiencies are possible. “The three melon growers involved in the project are submitting their production systems to a thorough life cycle assessment, or LCA, Robert says. “This is a process that captures every single bit of carbon and energy required to produce and transport a melon from the time the seed is sown through to the time it is taken to market and consumed.
Each grower will compile an inventory of all inputs and emissions involved in the production of seedless watermelons – from the energy required to pump irrigation water, sow and harvest a crop, through to the embodied energy in fertiliser and pesticides, and the fossil fuel required to package, transport and distribute the melons and, finally, dispose of the waste products.
“Once we have a full inventory of energy use and carbon emissions for the three growers, we will be able to determine the ‘hot spots’ in the melon production process and devise ways to reduce these hot spots through more efficient practices, Robert says.
The energy required for pumping irrigation water and freighting melons to market is anticipated to be an area where efficiencies can be made. “Freight and irrigation represent substantial users of energy in watermelon production, Robert says. “Another hot spot is likely to be the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from nitrogen fertiliser use.
Production information gathered from the three producers will also help highlight how energy use differs regionally, and between different melon production systems. For example, the production system on the Queensland melon farm relies solely on rainfall while the growers in New South Wales and the Northern Territory have irrigation systems powered by electricity and diesel. All three producers achieve different production levels per hectare, a significant factor in the carbon footprint of a production system. “The goal is to optimise production per hectare so that all the inputs – electricity, fertiliser, fuel, and so on − are used optimally with little wastage, Robert explains.
Freight to market also differs for each of the three producers. The Northern Territory grower sends melons across Australia to market, while the Queensland grower ships direct to Brisbane, just four hours away. Seasonal fluxes in customer demand for melons also play a part in the energy required to freight a melon to market – some winter truckloads are not loaded to capacity, and therefore require relatively more fuel per melon than a full summer truckload. “All these variants will be picked up in the LCA and provide us with valuable information from which we can start to lift production efficiencies, save money and generate fewer carbon emissions, Robert says.
Robert and his team will analyse the information from the LCAs for the watermelon production systems and develop ways to reduce the carbon footprint across the three systems. Funding for the project will enable growers to purchase equipment and implement new production methods. “While I don’t want to pre-empt the project’s findings, I suspect we will be looking at ways, for example, to make irrigation pumping and refrigeration more energy-efficient, and possibly examining the role that regional packing houses and delivery centres might play in improving freight efficiencies, Robert says.
The project will draw on carbon footprint expertise developed in the wine industry, with the Australian Wine Research Institute developing the LCAs for each of the three melon properties. “It’s important we don’t reinvent the wheel in this project but instead value-add to work already done in the LCA area, Robert explains. “The Australian Wine Research Institute has been involved in determining LCAs for several horticultural crops and they will use this expertise to develop the LCA for our seedless watermelon system.
With a push from retailers for information about the environmental sustainability of food production, Robert sees the carbon footprint project playing an important part in keeping the melon industry ahead of the game.
“Carbon footprint labelling of food is already being done in Europe and it is probably inevitable that Australia will follow suit, Robert says. “We need to deliver what the customer wants, as this will give us a marketing advantage. Pursuing efficiencies in the melon production system also makes perfect commercial sense, especially now that carbon has a price on it.
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It is hoped the research, being carried out at Simpson Farms in Childers, Central Queensland, will help reduce the avocado industry’s reliance on synthetic chemical fungicides.
Simpson Farms produces about 11,000 tonnes of avocados per year – about two million trays – and distributes them to Woolworths stores across Australia. This is about 20 per cent of the total national supply. The company also exports to a range of markets, predominantly in Asia.
It has about 180,000 avocado trees producing Hass, Shepard, Wurtz and Reed varieties, and about 200,000 more trees will come into full production in the next five years. Simpson Farms also supplies about 290 tonnes of mangoes to the Australian market each year and operates a pack house and avocado processing plant on-site.
Company agronomist Chad Simpson says phytophthora root rot is the major disease problem facing the company and the wider avocado industry in Australia, and is a serious impediment to on-farm productivity gains. It kills feeder roots, which slows the tree’s nutrient and water uptake. This causes progressive tree decline, lower fruit yields, and small, poor quality fruit.
“It is a big issue for us in terms of yield losses, and for the wider industry, with an estimated 10 per cent of the total avocado tree area affected, Chad says.
A $55,000 Woolworths Fresh Food Future grant, administered through Landcare Australia, is being used to set up a 10-hectare trial at the Simpson Farms property. It will assess the efficacy of organic amendments, including molasses and humic acid, in arresting tree decline due to root rot.
The trial will also investigate the nutritional benefits of the organic compounds to avocado trees and the impact on fruit yields.
Chad says that, if successful, the organic compounds could set up a more natural biological system to combat microbial root rot disease and improve soil structure.
Sugarcane and tomato growers have long recognised the benefits of amending soil with molasses and other organic additives to lift yields and combat root parasites. Chad believes the avocado industry can learn from their experience and, with Simpson Farms located near sugarcane producers in Queensland, molasses is readily available at low cost.
At the Simpson Farms trial site, each of the organic compound treatments was applied to the soil in January 2012 in individual rows of six-year-old Hass avocado trees. Regular follow-up applications will be carried out during the three years of the trial.
Healthy Hass trees at the top of the rows will be compared to unhealthy trees at the end of each row to monitor tree health improvements.
The trial plots will be run under the same standard commercial management as the remainder of the farm’s orchard, so the treatment rows will receive supplementary fertiliser applications, and pest and disease control measures, as required.
Chad expects that the avocado trees and soils receiving organic compounds in the trial will become healthier in the long run, as root rot problems are overcome and organic soil matter builds up.
The aim is to reduce tree decline (caused mainly by phytophthora root rot) by about 25 per cent within 18 months. Within 24 to 36 months, significant improvements are also expected in avocado fruit yields and tree health among trees already in decline.
Improved tree health should boost water and nutrient use efficiencies, irrigation efficiencies and productivity, and the avocado trees should have a reduced dependency on root rot chemical fungicides (mainly phosphoric acid).
Across the property, the aim is to cut the use of synthetic fertilisers by 10 per cent within three years and reduce chemical weed spray applications, tractor use and irrigation pump time.
A combination of these factors should lead to a smaller carbon footprint and significant cost savings. It has been estimated the company’s main farm produces about 2.6 tonnes per hectare of carbon emissions each year. Chad says that although this level is low, the company would benefit from any carbon footprint reduction that could result from using organic fertiliser compounds on trees.
“A smaller carbon footprint for us equates to better production efficiencies, lower costs and higher returns, he says.
“As we grow, we are investing about $200,000 each year into in-house R&D on a range of factors that will lead to productivity improvements driven by sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices.
He expects Australian and overseas consumers will become increasingly aware of the carbon footprint of their food.
“Ensuring production practices are efficient and sustainable, especially in terms of water and nutrient uptake, will assist us in the future marketing of Simpson Farms’ produce domestically and in our export markets, he says.
If the organic compounds do their job, Chad says consumers will benefit from better quality fruit on the table, grown from healthier trees in healthier soil.
Simpson Farms will assess the post-harvest quality of fruit from the trial through new processing procedures.
“We anticipate that differences in the post-harvest fruit quality, especially those due to disease incidence, will be observable,says Chad, who anticipates field days will be held for interested avocado producers during the trial, which is due to finish in 2014.
Higher fruit quality will give Simpson Farms good standing in the supply chain and will potentially lead to higher returns.
“Should the organic treatments prove successful, growers will have confidence to use these products to reduce their chemical inputs – therefore increasing their profitability – and lessen their impact on the environment.
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