18 July 1998

CERTIFICATE THAT COUNTS

Essex growers are exasperated by an energy audit, as Edward Long found out.

POTATO grower Simon Bosworth is using energy efficiently with no wastage, and he has a certificate to prove it. As a supplier of the prepacked crop to Tesco, he has to comply with the supermarkets Natures Choice Scheme which includes the requirement to undertake an energy audit.

Mr Bosworth manages 263ha (650 acres) of heavy chalky boulder clay for FJ Bosworth & Sons at Spains Hall, Willingale near Ongar, Essex. The farm is cropped with 119ha (294 acres) of winter wheat, 37ha (91 acres) winter barley, 45ha (111 acres) winter oilseed rape, 16ha (39 acres) spring peas, and 30ha (74 acres) potatoes grown for prepacking.

Until three years ago the farm supplied bagged potatoes, mainly reds, for the London trade, but after harvesting a super sample of Desiree in 1995 it was clear the quality needs of the supermarkets could be met. As the crop cannot be irrigated, only varieties that can cope without the need for a lot of water are grown. This year the portfolio includes Desiree, Estima, Pentland Squire and Ambo, plus a few King Edwards.

The policy is to sell the bulk of the crop out of the field in boxes at harvest, only about a third of it is held in the farms 800t ambient box store. There is no need for sophisticated refrigerated facilities as the Spains Hall crop is usually only held for a few weeks and the store is empty by Christmas.

Specifications

"As we are now supplying Tesco we have to grow our crop to the companys strict specifications which we did not do before," Mr Bosworth points out. "For 1998, all UK sourced produce going to the company, not just potatoes, must comply with the Natures Choice Scheme which includes the requirement to undertake an energy audit. I asked our various packers for help and was advised to contact the Farm Energy Centre at Stoneleigh. This I did and swopped a cheque for £40 plus VAT for the centres self-audit pack. It was then that I realised a lot of the requirements under the scheme were irrelevant for us as we did not have a sophisticated refrigerated store. But there was plenty to think about, much of it seemed trivial, as I ploughed my way through the self-audit process."

The scheme covers external lighting and heating of the store, grading line and even the farm office, and a potato grower is required to establish a planned maintenance schedule for regular lamp cleaning. The fuel efficiency of farm tractors has to be considered for the audit, and whether or not a 4WD machine is strictly necessary. Mr Bosworth is adamant that it is essential to have 4WD tractors on the sticky clay soil at Spains Hall. Wheelslip, ballast removal after draught operations are completed, and tyre pressure checks are also an integral part of the audit. Trailer tyres have to be checked for their rolling resistance, to minimise fuel consumption, and a record of fuel use for each job done should be kept.

"Most of these points seem superfluous and unnecessarily bureaucratic. What is far more relevant is the thickness of the insulation material in our box store, and the effectiviness of draught proofing. The audit requires stores to have 80mm of Styrafoam board or sprayed on urethane foam; ours meets the requirements so I was able to tick the box. There were lots of boxes with no ticks as these applied to equipment and facilities we did not have. But there were a few crosses and I will have to change 45 light bulbs in the yard and in both our grain and potato stores as the glass needs protecting. Three naked light bulbs over the potato grading line will be replaced by a single protected fluorescent tube."

Electricity

The requirement to record electricity consumption is already being met as the farms buying group, West Essex Farmers, is checking to see if its members are on the most appropriate tariff.

Mr Bosworth completed the energy audit in April. It took 1.5 hours of office time which was only a fraction of the total time he had to spend over the winter to implement the other requirements of the Natures Choice scheme. Soon after the document was posted back to the Farm Energy Centre at Kenilworth he received the certificate to prove he had successfully completed the self-audit. It is valid for 12 months.

It is a valuable piece of paper as it helps show the farms commitment to doing a good job to the supermarkets potato buyers. But there is no follow-up visit to check the validity of the ticks, crosses, comments and undertakings on the audit form.

"Most of the requirements had absolutely no relevance to our potato growing operation. While I understand the need to ensure safe and more efficient production, I fail to see the need for such detail. We certainly do not waste fuel, our tractors are well maintained, so there is little scope for savings on our diesel bill. We only use minimal amounts of electricity for potatoes as our grading line only operates for a few weeks in the autumn and early winter. With no long-term refrigerated storage there is little scope for savings on our electricity bill either, unless we find the need to switch to a cheaper tariff. The one potential gain for us is increased customer acceptance due to a higher level of consumer confidence in us as professional potato producers," Mr Bosworth concludes.

Above: Simon Bosworth has to grow to strict specifications to supply Tescos Natures Choice Scheme. Inset: The all important certificate granted after the energy audit.