A survey of the ASDA fresh produce supply chain has demonstrated the positive actions growers are taking to be good stewards of soil health, and an awareness of the long-term challenges to improving the sustainability of soils.
Over 55% of ASDA suppliers in the key fresh produce categories of leafy salads, field vegetables and potatoes responded to the soil stewardship and knowledge survey, carried out by crop research organisation NIAB, representing a significant proportion of the total UK area of crops grown.
All survey respondents had taken recent direct action to improve the physical, chemical or biological health of their soil. Actions included the addition of organic matter, using cover crops, compaction reduction methods such as wider tyres, controlled traffic farming and avoiding overworking wet soils, drainage, or an alternative cultivation strategy. Most respondents (80 per cent) had some form of documented soil management plan, with a number of these having a plan that extended to five years or more.
Survey respondents showed an appreciation of the long-term challenges to improving the sustainability of soils, with 64% identifying specific soil management challenges they were aiming to overcome. Most respondents highlighted specific activities that would support them further in improving soil health, including technical training and support to trial new techniques and approaches on farm, according to NIAB.
NIAB business development manager Steven Tompkins said: “This survey has allowed ASDA to understand the key challenges facing growers in this important area. Soil health is vital to the sustainability of the ASDA supply chain and the long term productivity of its growers. Taking action to support growers to protect and enhance this resource represents a win, win opportunity for grower and retailer.”
With soil health and sustainability high on ASDA’s agenda, the survey will shape the retailer’s future programme of support to its suppliers, as well as communicating these positive actions to consumers and stakeholders, according to NIAB. The first step has been the publication of ‘Simply sustainable soils’, a joint ASDA and LEAF guide for farmers, summarising six simple steps to help improve the performance and health of soils.
ASDA’s sustainable business director, Dr Chris Brown said: “We see the farmers that we work with as partners, not just suppliers. We strive to understand the positive actions that are being taken in our supply chain to improve performance, health and long-term sustainability of soils and welcome the information and recommendations that this survey has provided.”