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growing strawberries with great water management

The strawberries in our smoothies and juices are from the province of Huelva in southern Spain, a region that produces 30% of all the strawberries grown in Europe.  Huelva is also home to the Doñana National Park, one of Europe’s most ecologically important wetlands and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although providing important economic benefits to the region, agriculture was identified as providing competition for water in the region. Water scarcity threatens the national park and the thousands of migratory birds it supports, and also the livelihoods of strawberry growers in the region. 

finding a solution:

We wanted to find a way for the available water supply to support both strawberry farming and the national park.  In 2009, we started working with the University of Cordoba to trial different methods of irrigation.  The University found that it was possible to grow strawberries using 10 – 40% less water without any negative impact on strawberry yield or quality. The majority of this water saving could be achieved by carefully planning the amount of water the crop needs, irrigating during times when the weather is cooler and by keeping irrigation equipment well maintained.

scaling our impact:

Improved water efficiency means it is cheaper to run a farm’s irrigation system and apply fertilisers.  Excess water had previously made the growing area slippery under foot, so farm managers have also experienced labour cost savings due to easier harvesting.

In 2016 our project was recognised by winning the water category of the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards. To extend these benefits to more farms, we recognised the need to engage farmers and their respective buyers, particularly retailers who buy 70% of the strawberries grown in Huelva. In 2014 we teamed up with the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) and nine of their member brands and retailers sourcing from the region. We are now working on an ambitious project to reach and influence more farmers to use less water. 

what we've achieved so far:

Together, we’ve trained 74 farmers on 45 different techniques for great water management, and hosted a master class for a further 38 farmer advisors to boost their expertise on advanced water management. In addition to classroom training, we invited our farmers to see these practices in action at 2 showcase farms. Collectively, during the 2017/18 season we estimate these farmers have collected saved 440 million litres of water, with no impact on strawberry quality or yield.

Our training is free for farmers and to get the message far and wide we’ve opened up our work to all berry growers and used social media to share our top tips. In 2018 over 300 farmers viewed our material, these farmers account for 58% of the berries grown in the area.

In 2016, we also won a Guardian Sustainable Business Award for this project – and we’re still pretty proud of it. 

where next:

In the 2018/19 season our plan is to spend more time on farm with farmers, providing bespoke guidance to help farmers save even more water. We’d love the group to reduce their water use by an average of 20%. To do this, we remain an active member (and co-chair) of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative’s Water Efficiency Training programme, as we believe collaboration will be the most effective way to protect the needs of the environment and the agricultural sector in Huelva.

Updates will be shared through our blog online at www.innocentdrinks.co.uk/blog/sustainability