Re-posting my first blog: Following oranges through agri-business supply chains

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trop pic

Re-posting my first blog: Following oranges through agri-business supply chains

This post was originally published by myself during my time as a PhD student at the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research(CAER) in Reading and you can find the original blog here. After reading this blog you will come to realise that lots of things changed in my PhD after I wrote it – mainly my whole study area. No Brazil and no oranges! On top of that we moved universities; from Reading to UCL. I get to spend time at London Zoo now too, so all that change hasn’t turned out that bad 🙂

Original post May 9th 2014

Seeing as this is CAER’s first blog post (and what a privilege it is to be CAER’s first blogger) I decided to start off a trend of posts to briefly describe what each of the department’s PhD students are currently researching. There is a huge diversity of exciting projects which range from developing conservation management techniques to protect the CR Mauritian Olive White Eye (Gwen Maggs) to understanding the importance of biodiversity in supporting the ecosystem services of apple orchards in Kent (Sean Webber). Not only will this blog thread inform the world outside of CAER what we are all up to, but it will help us understand what each other are actually doing too!

I am still fairly new to PhD life, about 7 months through and only just starting to find my feet. So unfortunately there are no profound results from me yet, but I have outlined some areas of interest of which I would like my PhD to focus on and which I could garner some interesting results in a few years… maybe. Whether these areas of interest will completely change is currently unknown and I would prefer to keep it that way, for sanity reasons.

The topic of my PhD is one very relevant to CAER’s general interests: ecosystem services. This buzzword is everywhere at the moment: within academia, government policies and even multinational corporations that rely on these services provided by the environment to support their global products. One company particularly interested in finding the business value of these ecosystem services is Pepsico, who are the industry partner of my PhD.

Pepsico are the second largest food and beverage business in the world in terms of net revenue. In the UK Pepsico are best known for their Copella, Walkers Crisps, Quaker Oats and Tropicana brands. Pressures are rising from consumers and charities who are targeting companies like Pepsico, NestlĂ© and Kellogs to source their ingredients more sustainably – especially considering the vast amount of land used in order to grow the ingredients those companies go on to sell. Campaigns and petitions such as Oxfam’s Behind The Brand and Sum Of Us’ palm oil campaign both name and shame Pepsico for not being responsible in making sure their suppliers are sourcing sustainably. Every ingredient Pepsico source will need scrutinising, but I don’t have enough time to look at all ingredients during my PhD so I decided to start with one of the most complicated supply chains: oranges.

Sum of Us made a new version of the Doritos Super Bowl advert, with added deforestation scenes.

Sum of Us made a new version of the Doritos Super Bowl advert, with added deforestation scenes.

Supply chains are complicated at the best of times, with farmers producing ingredients all over the world, middle men providing different services, processors and packagers, buyers and then final consumers. For a brand to be classed as sustainable, audits and compliancy checks must be undergone at each level in the supply chain to ensure each person in this confusing, international network are all acting sustainably. In the past, large international corporations have benefitted from relying on external sources to buy their ingredients, and not having to ask any questions as to where it came from – as long as the price is right. But with consumers becoming ever more savvy about their environment and the impacts irresponsible farming practices could have on natural habitats and endangered species, these large corporations are being forced to take on more responsibility.

Where do I start? It seems quite practical to firstly find the orange groves that the oranges come from which produce Tropicana for the European market. This has turned out to be a tricksy task. Although it is known oranges for the US market come from Florida, it seems the European Tropicana oranges come from SĂŁo Paulo State in Brazil, but their exact locations are unknown – making assessing environmental risks difficult. If management techniques and inputs such as fertilisers and insecticides are unknown this means there is an unknown impact that production is having on biodiversity, both on farm and in the surrounding landscape, as well as the ecosystem services those orange groves might rely on: water and nutrient cycling, pollination or pest control from praying mantis!

The overall aim of my research is to provide international corporations, of similarly confusing supply chains, with a process to follow or ‘conceptual framework’ to help them identify where environmental, reputational and eventually economic risks lie within their supply chain. If being environmentally sustainable can be economically viable and profitable then surely this is a good move for businesses to make? Nurturing nature and being ‘green’ should not only be practiced when times are economically viable to do so, but it should be engrained into business plans to ensure long term sustainability of a company – especially those which rely on functional ecosystems to produce food and drinks products sold worldwide.

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Dawn C.Turner

Counting birds at 4am: my PhD explained

I thought it was time to tell you all why on earth I have been getting up at silly o’clock to count birds in the orchards of Herefordshire. It was also too windy for the birds today, so I’ve had a day off!

A recent BBC article writing about the benefits of organic farming to wildlife and biodiversity nicely introduces the thought process behind my PhD project. It highlights that having a few organic fields on a farm may increase biodiversity over the whole farm, making room for more species to persist alongside our food production areas. However, this comes at a cost – lower yields. You might wonder: if organic fields produce less food how do farmers still make as much money as non-organic farmers? This is important to consider, as we can see organic farming is important for wildlife, which we try to preserve and protect, but it may be detrimental to farmers, and their pockets.

Dawn orchard view

Dawn orchard view

As we strive to produce more and more food on agricultural lands without expanding agriculture into surrounding woodlands and grasslands, it may cause farming practices to intensify – for example using more pesticides. This land sparing versus land sharing debate is quite large and discusses whether agricultural intensification is best – where protected areas are only areas left for wildlife or whether wildlife-friendly farming, which integrates wildlife and agriculture, is the way forward.

But what if wildlife-friendly farmers can make as much money as conventional ones? Biodiversity has been known to provide benefits to farming, such as pollination and pest/biological control services. These are known in the scientific community as ‘ecosystem services’. The hot topic ecosystem service currently is pollination, with news of wild bumblebee populations halving, potentially due to nicotine-like pesticides sprayed on fields. Pollination is vital to some crops, such as apples, where a higher quality and quantity of crop is produced when pollination has occurred. This problem comes to light when farmers are forced to boost farm pollinator populations by buying bees in a box.

Bees in a box

Bees in a box

Another ecosystem service, the one I am focussing on, is pest control. There are various studies showing that insects and birds, found naturally in our landscape, can act as a pest control and reduce damage to crops. Earwigs control aphid populations and Great Tits have been seen to reduce caterpillar damage in orchards.

Surely by using our local pest regulators to do the dirty work for us, farmers can save money? Pesticide applications are very expensive and a major cost incurred, reiterated by most farmers involved in my study. I am trying to find out whether a pest control service exists in apple orchards of Herefordshire, and whether that service has monetary value to farmers. In other words, will farmers make more money by not using pesticides? Apple yields and pest levels will also be taken into account to make sure overall profits are looked at rather than just the costs spent on the farm.

The way we are going to answer this question is to measure biodiversity on four orchard categories which range from high – low biodiversity levels and high – low pesticide use. Beetles and birds are going to be used as our indicators for biodiversity, which we will measure on each orchard.

Bird surveys are underway

Bird surveys are underway


After measuring the amount of natural habitat, such as hedgerows and woodland areas, and biodiversity on each farm we will look at whether or not that biodiversity is acting as a pest control service to the orchard. By using farm pesticide records and closely monitoring Blue Tits and Great Tits, using nest box cameras, we should be able to determine whether those bird species are acting as an ecosystem service and saving the farmer from spraying more pesticides than they would have to if those birds weren’t around.

By installing nest box cameras in some of the orchards we should hopefully catch pictures of what Blue Tits and Great Tits are eating from the orchards, to capture whether the insects they are catching are anything beneficial to farmers or not. Personally, I hope they are
 but we will see.

Read my next blog “Curly blonde pigs, Cow panic and a Birdy Dilemma” to see how my fieldwork is going so far.

Thanks to all the farmers who have kindly agreed to let me roam around their farms counting birds in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. I wouldn’t have a PhD project without you.

Orchard view

Written by Charlotte Selvey and first posted here in May 2015.


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