In May 2021, our farming team in Kent introduced a new, innovative 3-metre growing bed system to grow its crops – spinach, red chard, Bulls Blood and lettuce – which has created amazing results. This growing system, versus the traditional 1.85m bed system, helps to produce a high-quality crop whilst providing benefits to the environment.

Bespoke machinery has been developed specifically for this system including cultivation, sowing and harvesting equipment. The cultivation tractor is equipped with implements that allow for seedbed preparation and sowing in one pass – this reduces both energy and labour. The harvester was designed to carry a trailer on the back lifting it away from the bed to prevent soil damage. The many benefits include a reduction in soil compaction and erosion, which in turn improves water retention, carbon storage, and nutrient cycling. This results in less land run-off, increased water efficiency in irrigation and a reduction of inputs. The 3m bed system also makes more efficient use of the land, with an increase of 22% land use.

This season the team implemented a different field layout for the irrigation and spray beds. In the picture below there are two 1.85m beds in between the 3m beds for the sole purpose of being able to sow on them – therefore maximizing land use.

Kent farm manager, Gary Owtram comments: “The 3m system is very effective which we can see from the photos. Using our bed former and precision 3m drill we have very even germination throughout the various crops. Also, we’re able to form the beds and sow at the same time (single pass) which means we are more time-efficient.”

A great example of innovation from the team at Abbey Farm in Kent.

Vitacress is delighted to be partnering in a new research project, led by The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) to help the horticultural trade transition to sustainable growing media.

A £1million, co-funded, five-year project will convene government, growers and growing media manufacturers through the Growing Media Association and horticultural product supplier Fargro to research sustainable alternatives to peat in large-scale commercial settings.

“Vitacress Herbs is excited to be partnering with the RHS and other partners from across our industry to accelerate progress towards growing peat-free.”

David Walmsley, MD of Vitacress Herbs

“We grow and sell over 16 million pots of culinary and horticulture herbs each year and have made great progress in this area to date. In 2023, all of our horticulture range available in selected garden centres and RHS stores, will be grown peat-free. Through this collaboration, we aim to identify a sustainable growing media which delivers quality plant growth, is safe for food, cost-effective and has a viable long-term supply chain.”

Areas of focus for the group will include peat free plant and plug plant production, new growing media technologies to replace the estimated 1.7m m3 of peat used by the UK horticultural industry in 2021, growing protocols, best practice use of the latest products, and developing peat-free solutions for challenging plant groups such as carnivorous and ericaceous species.

Five growers initially will work alongside Dr Raghavendra Prasad who has joined the RHS’ 120-strong Science team at RHS Hilltop: Home of Gardening Science this month. They are: Allensmore, Hills Plants, Johnsons of Whixley, The Farplants Group and Vitacress who collectively produce more than 46 million plants every year.

Findings will also be shared ongoing with the wider industry to aid the transition to peat-free.

Vitacress is proud to have committed to environmental transparency by disclosing its environmental impact through CDP, a global non-profit organisation that runs the world’s leading disclosure platform.

Disclosing data around environmental impact is now a business norm; in 2021, over 13,000 companies worth over 64% of global market capitalisation disclosed their environmental data through CDP, an increase of 37% since 2020. More than 590 investors and 200 purchasing organisations have requested environmental data from companies. By disclosing, we are prepared to handle the increasing demand for environmental transparency from customers and policymakers.

In its disclosure, Vitacress shared information on its initial carbon assessment data for scope 1 and 2.

Leah Mathias-Collins, Group Environment Manager, commented, “There is an increasing demand to provide clarity to both our customers and colleagues on what we are doing to reduce our impact on the environment. Working with CDP, it gives us a great opportunity to use the data captured as a benchmark for future progress and share the great work we’re doing.”

Sonya Bhonsle, Global Head of Value Chains at CDP, commented, “Climate change poses a present and future risk to companies and their supply chains. Only by measuring environmental risks and opportunities can companies manage them now, prepare for the future and remain competitive – especially as large mainstream investors and policymakers increasingly push for greater transparency through disclosure. By disclosing their environmental impact through CDP, Vitacress has taken an important first step. I look forward to their continued dedication to transparency and effort in securing a sustainable 1.5 degree future.”