Marks and Spencer (M&S) has confirmed that it is now working with a Co. Armagh vegetable grower to help boost pollinating insect activity.
Following a successful trial last year, M&S has announced an expansion of its partnership with agri-tech start-up AgriSound to an additional 18 sites across the UK, including Gilpin Farms in Armagh.
Two in-field sensor trials were launched last year to help farmers better support pollinators like bumblebees and increase crop yields.
Pollinator insect activity
AgriSound Polly technology allows farmers to track the number of pollinators visiting their farm in real-time and target specific interventions, like differing wildflower densities, for improving numbers and yields and quality of crops, as well as benefiting the wider environment.
This technology has now been scaled-up to a further 18 M&S Select Farms across the UK– including Gilpin Farms in Armagh.
The programme will cover a diverse range of M&S’s fruit, vegetable and salad farms, making up 8% of M&S growers, with monitors covering 120 habitats and over 1000ha, the largest number of growers reached through a retailer-funded trial to date.
The technology will provide growers access to real-time data and insights to help set their farms up to be more nature friendly.
Gilpin Farms is an M&S Select Farm which supplies a range of vegetables including carrots, leeks, pumpkins and brussels sprouts to the high-street retailer.
AgriSound are biodiversity experts that have developed specialist listening devices, which combine acoustic technology and environmental sensors to monitor the density of key pollinators, including bumblebees and honeybees, as well as the wider insect community remotely.
The devices collect and send data via mobile data, with users able to see results via a smartphone or web app.
At Gilpin Farms the sensors will be located in the pumpkin fields surrounding the Armagh site.
Elaine Neill, head of sustainability and innovation at Gilpin Farms said:
“Pollinators play a vital role in helping us deliver the best quality produce we can at the farm. So, we are keen to see the impact AgriSound technology has on activity.
“With so many current environmental challenges, it’s more important than ever to understand pollinators better.”
Richard Gilpin, head of farm operations at Gilpin Farms commented:
“The technology will be invaluable to help us monitor the pollinator activity across the whole farm but particularly in the pumpkin crops.
“We currently bring in over 100 hives of bumble and honey bees to aid the pollination of the pumpkins and the AgriSound technology will monitor how effective this is and also help us to make informed decisions about further interventions.
“We’re delighted to have been selected by M&S as one of the locations for this expansion and excited to see what beneficial outcomes can be achieved by these relatively simple measures. If we can attract more pollinators to our farm, this will be a huge success.”
This collaboration is part of M&S’ Farming with Nature programme, launched in 2021 to support the retailer’s Select Farmers to become more resilient to environmental challenges spanning climate change and biodiversity loss.
As part of the programme, M&S has partnered with specialist industry partner LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) to strengthen pollinator-friendly farming practices across M&S’s grower base in the UK.
M&S British fruit and vegetable growers are adopting higher standards, developed in partnership with LEAF, to boost biodiversity.
This means, for instance, that growers set aside between 5-10% of habitat for wildlife and monitor numbers of farmland birds and pollinators.
Today, M&S Select Farm growers are protecting and enhancing 9,500ha of habitats across the UK, with the growers on average setting aside 7% of their farms to wildlife.
Andrew Clappen, technical director at M&S Food, said: “Improving biodiversity is at the forefront of our plans to help farmers become more resilient to the impact of climate change.
“Pollinators are the unsung heroes of British farming, helping to improve yields and quality while benefiting the wider environment.
“Since we launched Farming with Nature, we’ve been hosting workshops offering advice to our M&S Select Farmers on the best ways to attract more pollinators.
“Now, by expanding out our partnership with AgriSound, Gilpin Farms will have real-time data and valuable insights into what’s working and what’s not,” Clappen added.
M&S is also working closely with farmers on land use and different wildflower mixes to boost pollinator numbers, alongside crop health and pest management.