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Lettuce, Portugal

Lettuce – Vitacress Portugal, SA

This case study demonstrates how the management and production of baby leaf & Iceberg lettuce can be undertaken in conjunction with developing species rich habitats to help increase biodiversity levels on farm. A key focus is also on optimising the use of inputs and utilising techniques and natural processes to control pests and diseases whilst maintaining high product safety and quality.

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Key areas of good practice

The key initiatives undertaken by the farm “Quinta da Azenha” can be summarised as follows:

  • Staff undertaking key decisions on crop management and inputs are provided with training to gain recognised industry qualifications, this includes the Fertiliser Advisors Certification & Training Scheme (FACTS) for nutrient management and the British Agrochemical Standards Inspection Scheme (BASIS) for agrochemical approval and use.

  • The farm’s soil fertility strategy utilises fast growing crops such as sorghum, legumes, and brassicas as green manures. These are planted and help capture any available soil nutrients and nitrogen from the atmostphere, when they are then chopped and incorporated into the soil to provide additional organic matter for the soil and nutrients for the following crop.

  • Reducing agrochemical use by implementing natural control strategies is a key focus of the farm. These includes growing Caliente Mustard which when cut and chopped produces a naturally occurring bio–fumigant gas which helps with the suppression of various soil–borne diseases and pests. The farm also utilises soil solarisation, which uses the warmth from the sun to heat the soil thereby destroying soilborne pathogens and weed seeds. Crop variety selection uses the current highest resistant cultivars to reduce the occurrence and severity of some diseases This strategy delivered a 37% reduction in agrochemical use per 1000Kg of crops in 2013 compared to 2012.

  • The farm has established and implemented a ‘Biodiversity Action Plan’ which has helped construct a set of biological and environmental targets. This has culminated in the development and implementation of ‘Bio–indicators’ (species of flora or fauna whose function, population, or status can be used to monitor the health of an environment or ecosystem) which are used for assessing and evaluating the farm’s environmental good practices and nature conservation policies.

  • In 2011 Quinta da Azenha became the first farming operation outside the United Kingdom to adopt the Conservation Grade or Fair to Nature scheme. Conservation Grade Farming is a scientifically and independently validated protocol and is designed to focus on locally important species, ensuring the most appropriate habitats can be developed. Amongst several pre–requisites for qualification, 10% of our farming area at Quinta da Azenha has been dedicated to the creation of specific habitats.

  • The farm is involved in two community schemes. The first sees any excess product, beyond customer orders, distributed to local people in need, the second provides advice on health and the provision of food through support workshops for the local community. Vitacress also supports the national scheme “Empresários pela inclusão Social” which aims to oversee that “students with difficulties” between the ages of 10 and 18 remain in education by ensuring they have a support network in place to help them out in times of need.