West Sussex tomato grower Eric Wall has became one of the first two UK commercial glasshouse businesses to be named as LEAF (Linking Environment & Farming) demonstration farms.
The move means it will now demonstrate LEAF's integrated farm management (IFM) approach to other growers, customers and the public as part of a network of 40 farms across all sectors.
The occasion was marked with a tree planting on 13 May by Horticulture Innovation Partnership chairman Mary Bosley. "Eric Wall has always been at the cutting edge, first taking growing out of the soil and up high wires, using pipe-and-rail systems, and biological controls," she said. "The company has put sustainable growing at the core of its business decisions, and made continuous investment to that end."
Managing director Chris Wall said: "Becoming a LEAF demonstration farm has been a fairly lengthy process - about two years in all. But it is an opportunity for us to share best practice, both in terms of what we employ here and elsewhere in UK horticulture. Visitors often say: 'I had no idea.' We can talk to them about Eric Wall and the industry in general."
The company has been LEAF Marque certified since 2004 and has implemented several innovations, such as installing more energy-efficient boilers, upgrading heating pipes, insulating heating storage tanks and using thermal screens.
It also aims for sustainability in water use, recycling drain water internally and collecting external run-off in an on-site reservoir, as well as monitoring its use.
LEAF chief executive Caroline Drummond said: "Water management is probably the single biggest challenge that's around the corner." Eric Wall senior production manager Richard Kooijman agreed that "water footprinting is coming".
He added: "We are not pesticide-free and we do use chemical fertiliser. But we favour biological controls - they aren't cheap, but they are better. Bumblebees are very sensitive to pesticides and ours last longer in the glasshouse. We were the first to make the change to native bumblebees for pollination."
Passers-by on a public footpath through the site are informed of such measures through signage, while surrounding meadows are selectively mown to increase their habitat value.
LEAF Comment - Caroline Drummond, chief executive, LEAF
"These are first-class examples of how the principles of IFM can be implemented under glass on a large scale. Both sites will play a critical role in inspiring others in the food and farming industry as well as help raise awareness among the public about how food is grown to high standards of environmental care."
Tangmere celebrates addition to network
Also joining the LEAF demonstration farm network is Tangmere Airfield Nurseries in West Sussex, one of Europe's largest sweet pepper growers.
Produce World director of agriculture and LEAF trustee Andrew Burgess said: "Becoming a LEAF demonstration farm is one of the highest accolades a farm can achieve and shows a real commitment to integrated farm management (IFM). Tangmere has joined a high-quality learning group."
LEAF Marque certified since 2003, Tangmere's implementation of IFM includes efficient energy use through its combined heat and power unit, water recirculation and thermal screens. Waste is minimised by turning used plants into either compost or animal feed.
Demonstrating the sustainability features of a new 10.6ha 6m-high glasshouse opened last year, technical manager Mark Knight said: "A roof this high allows you to put two thermal screens across, which makes a heck of a difference to energy use. A larger volume of air also takes longer to warm up and cool down, so you have a more stable climate and less stressed plants."
The vast roof is cleaned at least three times a year to maximise light transmission. "One per cent extra light is one per cent extra yield," he added.
"Aphids are our most challenging pests. Biocontrols are less damaging and allow natural predators to thrive. We are looking to create an equilibrium, keeping then down to the crop damage threshold. If you spray, the plant then has to divert energy to deal with that."
General manager Gerard Vonk put "engagement with consumers and the community" among the company's priorities, adding: "People care about where and how their food is produced."
Planting a tree to mark the occasion, gardening broadcaster Pippa Greenwood said: "There are many things you can scale down to a domestic situation."