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UK blackcurrant growers celebrated at Ribena Conference

Norfolk blackcurrant grower Rosie Begg (second from left) accepting Ribena’s Farm Stewardship Award, with SBF GB&I’s Supply Chain Director Dan Woodhead, COO Carol Robert and Agronomist Harriet Prosser

Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I

5 min read Partner content

Suntory Beverage and Food GB&I (SBF GB&I) brought together its blackcurrant growers in Somerset to celebrate the nation’s fruit farmers and their contribution to Ribena and biodiversity.

Ribena has been a staple for British families for almost a hundred years. And the story behind the well-loved brand is one of UK farmers – 100 per cent of Ribena’s blackcurrants are British grown, and 90 percent of the British crop goes to produce the much-loved drinks.

The Blackcurrant Conference recognised the work of blackcurrant farmers across the UK and celebrated their relationship with Ribena, which for some of the farming families goes back four generations.

Amongst the winners was Rosie Begg from Gorgate Farm in Mid Norfolk, who won Ribena’s Farm Stewardship Award, recognising the farm most committed to delivering SBF GB&I’s Six Point Plan for sustainability.  

The Six Point Plan was first introduced in 2004 to support on-farm conservation and protect habitats where Ribena blackcurrants are grown. This consists of simple but effective environmental principles implemented alongside production, a process that is now fully embedded in and around every blackcurrant field growing for Ribena across the country.

Recognising that farmers wanted practical help with the delivery of these actions, five years ago SBF GB&I partnered with the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), a conservation charity that specialises in providing trusted, independent environmental advice to the farming community.

Six point planThe partnership with FWAG has seen specialist conservation advisors visit each of the 34 blackcurrant farms to validate the 6 point plan activities and provide tailored advice on how to optimise the farms’ specific habitats for the benefit of wildlife and the planet, producing a detailed report and a biodiversity action plan for each farm.

Gorgate Farm has introduced a number of measures to promote biodiversity, including establishing diverse alleyway swards between the rows of blackcurrant bushes, including flowering plants into the grass mix, to both protect against soil erosion and support pollinating insects.

Presenting the award, SBF GB&I’s agronomist Harriet Prosser said: “Rosie and her team not only take the Six Point Plan very seriously, but they are committed to driving change and playing a leading role in sustainable food production that works in harmony with nature. They are also promoting their work to a wider audience, working with neighbouring farms and other organisations to have a positive impact on the local environment; an additional level of dedication beyond their own farm.”

Congratulating them on their win, local MP George Freeman said: “Rosie, and the team at Gorgate Farm embody the very best of UK and Norfolk agriculture: pioneering innovative ways to combine top quality produce with the highest standards of habitat. Their work on sustainable farming, but also their eco-tourism and local community engagement sums up the Norfolk Way.”

George Freeman MP visited Gorgate Farm in 2019 to see the excellent work Rosie Begg and her team have been doing
George Freeman MP visited Gorgate Farm in 2019 to see the excellent work Rosie Begg and her team have been doing

Late last year, SBF GB&I published the results from the five-year farm stewardship programme with FWAG, highlighting the positive difference that all of its growers are making in protecting and enhancing wildlife across the UK.

Across the 34 Ribena growers up and down the country, SBF GB&I’s Six Point Plan has helped support 13 red list and 15 amber list “Birds of Conservation Concern.” These include increasingly threatened species such as turtle doves, field fares, skylarks, grey partridges, and yellowhammers. The approach has also been good news for other native wildlife that are priorities for conservation in the UK, including at least 19 species of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

The plan has inspired farmers to install over 2,000 nest boxes across their farms, creating secure homes for an estimated 1,172 pairs of nesting birds, such as barn owls, wrens and blue tits. The nest boxes have also become home to dormice, bees and pipistrelle bats and in fact, at least seven of the UK’s 17 bat species have been recorded on these farms.

Ribena farmers have also sown the equivalent of 116 rugby pitches with specific pollen and nectar seed mixes to encourage pollinating insects, great for wildlife and for producing juicy blackcurrants.

Biodiversity image

SBF GB&I is also helping its growers respond to the challenge of climate change by investing in the long-term sustainability of blackcurrant production in the UK. Over the last 20 years, it has invested over £2 million in research and innovations such as more climate change resilient blackcurrants through its partnership with the James Hutton Institute, a leading crop and environmental research institute.

Liz Nieboer, Head of Sustainability and External Affairs at SBF GB&I believes that major businesses like hers have a responsibility to work in partnership with farmers to ensure that nature is protected. She is delighted with the impact that local blackcurrant growers like Rosie are making, but knows that more work is needed as the agricultural sector adapts to the challenges of a changing climate:

“Over the last 20 years we have partnered with our growers and invested in research and innovation to ensure the sustainability of production. This means that we are not simply providing for the current generation but working hard to safeguard nature for future generations too. We hope that as the Government rolls out its plans for the future of agricultural payments, sustainability and innovation is placed at its heart.”

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