Ribena to trial regenerative blackcurrant farming in ‘bold’ new project

The scheme will take place across much of the 60 hectares of blackcurrant production at Gorgate Farm in Norfolk, which has been growing blackcurrants for Ribena since the 1950s.

Suntory Beverage & Food Great Britain and Ireland (SBF GB&I) launched the ambitious project in collaboration with the University of East Anglia, Suntory Holdings and Soil Ecology Laboratory.

As part of Suntory Group’s overall ambition to support crop resilience and reduce carbon emissions from its supply chain, it aims to reduce Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions from blackcurrant production and improve soil health so that it can support plant resilience and increase the amount of carbon it can sequester.

The pilot project will launch this month, backed by investment from Suntory Holdings Limited, and will continue for at least three years.

However, it is hoped that the principles and learnings developed will lead to a step change in sustainable production not just for blackcurrants but for many other crops well into the future.

Creating a blueprint that could support other growers as they start their regenerative agriculture journey.

Rosie Begg – second generation blackcurrant grower and research lead at Gorgate Farm – said: “Ribena is an iconic brand with an 85-year history of supporting the UK blackcurrant industry, driving innovation in blackcurrant farming as well as the conservation of farmland.

“Challenging climatic and economic conditions over the past few growing seasons have inspired me to investigate, and start to adopt regenerative farming practices, that will allow us to grow sustainably as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s thrilling to be able to bring in national experts and researchers to support this ambition and to be so supported by our customers.  Collaborating with Suntory’s global team will enable us to share our learnings and learn from regenerative projects all over the world.

“Soil truly is the most important and essential ecosystem; it’s linked to every function on the planet. The aim is by focusing on soil biology restoration, we can allow natural processes to support blackcurrant production without so much intervention, benefiting both the environment and blackcurrants we grow substantially.”

The small print

The project will focus on minimising external inputs like fertiliser while improving soil health, plant nutrition and environmental protection.

It will do this in a number of ways including sap sampling to better understand and optimise blackcurrant plant nutrition – the theory being macro and micro-nutrient imbalances affect plant resilience and attack by pests and diseases.

It will also use novel and organic inputs (both fertiliser and crop protection) to replace conventional inputs and create diverse alleyway swards to feed the soil, increase carbon.

SBF GB&I agronomist Harriet Prosser said: “This project represents a real shift away from more conventional practices. The principles are backed by credible science but have yet to be commercially tested in more mainstream perennial fruit systems.

“The aim is to produce quality data that will enable us to scale up these principals to the wider industry. We’re not just tackling greenhouse gas emissions, we’re looking to increase the amount of life, in our soil, in turn improving soil health and fertility which benefits the blackcurrant itself.

“This trial is part of a global regenerative agriculture initiative led by Suntory Holdings Limited and draws on expertise from industry and academia, it aims to facilitate healthy plant growth and re-establish a more natural soil food web.

“This is an ambitious project – we want to do this important work while maintaining a commercial yield of high-quality juicy British blackcurrants that will go into making Ribena for the next 85 years.”

The project will use the widely adopted Cool Farm Tool to quantify the on-farm greenhouse gas emissions and soil carbon sequestration. This will ensure accurate and consistent carbon reporting. The wider results will be reported via peer-reviewed scientific papers charting the project’s findings.

While regenerative agriculture has become something of buzzword, and is now backed by a number of large businesses including DanonePepsiCo and McCain Foodsa new report from Bankers for Net-Zero earlier this year has warned that it is still only receiving a tiny fraction of overall agriculture finance from both public and private sources.

Barriers to uptake, the report outlines, include the need to inform and upskill farmers; a lack of codes and standards to enable finance to flow; and data gaps. The report recommends the creation of government grants for regenerative farming coupled with a plan to phase-down finance for fossil-based agrichemicals, plus collaboration between government, farmers and other agricultural players to share knowledge.

Related news: Carlsberg ramps up regenerative farming practices across barley supply chain

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