Technology giving pollinators a helping hand at Gilpin Farms

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, and Gilpin Farms are delighted to have been selected to participate in the scheme.

Two in-field sensor trials were launched last year to help farmers better support pollinators like bumblebees and increase crop yields. 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 benefitting the wider environment.

This programme will cover a diverse range of M&S’s fruit, veg and salad farms, making up 8% of M&S British growers, with monitors covering 120 habitats and over 1000 hectares, 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 brussel sprouts to the high-street retailer.

Members of the Gilpin Family. Gilpin Farms are delighted to be teaming up with M&S in their initiative aimed at increasing pollinator activity.

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.

Bees pollinating the pumpkin crop on Gilpin Farms.

At Gilpin Farms the sensors will be located in the pumpkin fields surrounding the Armagh site.

Elaine Neill, Head of Sustainability and Innovation at Gilfresh Produce said: “Pollinators play a vital role in helping us deliver the best quality produce we can at the farm – so we’re 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.”

The 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 example, 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 9,500 hectares of habitats across the UK, with the growers on average setting aside 7% of their farms to wildlife, delivering the biodiversity badly needed across supply chains.

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 benefitting 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.

We’re also working closely with farmers on land use and different wildflower mixes to boost pollinator numbers, alongside crop health and pest management.”

Gill Perkins, Chief Executive of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said: “It’s fantastic to see a major retailer investing in both supporting and monitoring our essential wild pollinators. Bumblebees and other pollinators ensure that the food we eat is nutritious, healthy and tasty, by working in the fields from dawn until dusk every day – they are our unsung heroes of food production and it’s great to see them receive the recognition they deserve and the support they need to survive.”

Casey Woodward, Founder and CEO of AgriSound, said: We’re delighted that M&S has decided to roll-out AgriSound technology to more of its Select Farms. The development of our Polly™ devices has taken years of dedicated research and it is really exciting to see our technology continuing to deliver unique insights into pollinator activity. I look forward to working closely with the Select Farmers to help protect local pollinator communities.”

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