Fruit production — like all agricultural practices — must adapt to climate change. Supply chains are already experiencing negative impacts from warping climates, with early and erratic crop flowering, reduced quality of fruits, the emergence of new diseases, and water supply issues all presenting new challenges. On top of these, larger threats such as floods, storms and droughts will likely increase in severity in the coming decades.

The problem

A reduction of harmful emissions across supply chains in the sector can be supplemented and strengthened through the introduction of sustainable initiatives like water management, improvements in soil quality, biodiversity protection and carbon capture. Improving local farming practices could have a dramatic impact on GHG emissions and has the added benefit of being hand in hand with more equitable social conditions for food production workers.

The global food and fruit processing company Danone pledged to cut its GHG emissions in half by 2030. Through the Friendly Fruit project, launched with co-partners INRA in France, Danone’s fruit buyers are analysing current fruit production practices to create guidelines to improve sustainability across the entire industry. This will not only reduce the negative environmental and social impacts associated with current methods of fruit production, but also make supply chains stronger.

The project consortium includes EIT Climate-KIC partner INRA, Italy’s biometeorology institute IBIMET, Wageningen University, Alma Mater Studiorum at the Università di Bologna, DanTrade B.V., Agro-Transfert Ressources et Territoires, Materne SAS, and Universita Politechnica delle Marche.

The solution

Friendly Fruit has changed agricultural practices in various regions to allow environment-friendly strawberry and apple fruit production. These two popular fruits account for 11 per cent of the global fruit market, and almost half of Danone’s global fruit production. The project focuses on the supply chain in close links with the farmers. It will use the scientific results to bring systemic change toward a sustainable fruit value chain through new guidelines and then assess the impacts of these practices.

Several newly-designed innovations are also being introduced: pest-resistant and high-performing fruit varieties better adapted to weather changes and maintaining higher levels of quality, mechanical weeding systems intended to bring down herbicide use and smart-sensors buried in soils which monitor water levels and improve the management of this vital resource. Five farm labs have been set up in Morocco to test new cultivars of strawberries, work on better use of water and fertilisers, and implement new biocontrol approaches to control pests and diseases.

The impact

Five farm labs have been set up in Morocco to test new cultivars of strawberries; work on better use of water and fertilisers; and implement new biocontrol approaches to control pests and diseases. Farmers learn farming techniques as well as business acumen.

INRA organised five co-design workshops and training sessionin collaboration with Danone and MOM, a large agro-food company and another commercial partner in the project. In July 2018, the Socrates Apple Academy was set up in France, to focus on innovative low-input orchard concepts, such as the reduction of pesticides, fertilisers and water. Three sessions were run in 2018 and 2019 in the Czech Republic, focusing on biodiversity enhancement. In February this year, a workshop was run with French apple growers on MOM’s orchards, to develop solutions against the rosy apple aphid.

It is still early days for the initiative, but there are some interesting environmental results already coming through. One apple orchard saw a 30 per cent reduction in water use in 2018, thanks to the monitoring equipment installed to control water supply. More impacts are expected along the way. Prototype spraying systems for strawberries are expected to increase efficiency by 60-70 per cent. New biocontrol products are to be tested on both fruits, including a more environmentally-friendly herbicide and a product for soil fumigation. Solar panels will be employed extensively throughout the farming projects, leading to a direct decrease in GHG emissions. And through the management of row and interrow farming, biodiversity is expected to increase in tandem with an optimisation of nitrogen and carbon cycles across multiple environmental biomes. Biodiversity levels and water use in apple orchards are monitored from the ground and air, using drones to take photos which are analysed to estimate theneeds in water of the trees. These data are then used to plan water management.

The final aim of the project is to disseminate the knowledge and expertise as widely as possible, to achieve impacts along the whole fruit chain in Europe and beyond.

EIT Climate-KIC’s role

EIT Climate-KIC’s CSA Booster flagship initiative provided Friendly Fruit with funding, and a network of experts and project partners. Climate KIC also helped to translate ideas generated in research labs into practical, real-world solutions to be experimented with and implemented in farms across the European Union and beyond.

The total budget of the project was about €3 million, €1.8 million of which was provided by the  EIT Climate-KIC. This was shared between the different activities of the project, with a strong emphasis on dissemination activities.

EIT Climate-KIC is discussing the project with food retailers to draw more partners into Friendly Fruit, and facilitate the dissemination of the scientific output. Project partners instill the same values and practical innovations in other fruit producers across Europe, to help transform the wider industry.

The next steps will be to measure the agronomical, economical, technical, social and environmental impact of the new practices, and to spread the message further. The EIT Climate-KIC’s support and contacts will be essential for this mission.