Not only that, but Kent is a seasoned grower; one who is not easily persuaded by every new technology that comes along. He has seen what works and what doesn’t. He has tried new methods, such as making his own compost for the farm, and then moved on when it wasn’t sustainable for the long-haul. But that doesn’t mean he is no longer looking for alternative solutions to improve soil health and allow the farm to continue to be sustainable long into the future.
- It is necessary on our Georgia farm to grow using plastic due to the presence of nematodes (a parasitic pest). The plastic is also used to help warm up the soil for earlier plantings as well as to keep the product up off of the ground and cleaner.
- While the norm for plasticulture is to get 2, or possibly 4 crops per laying of plastic, we are able to get 6 crops (3 year’s worth) and are currently working with manufacturers to develop a plastic that can last for more than 6 crops. This longevity in our plastic usage allows us to decrease our fumigation frequency by 30-60%. This comes at a higher labor cost to us because weeds must be controlled manually once the plastic has some age on it.
- No plastic is necessary in Yucatan, and a rotational crop is planted on bare fields in the off season.
- In Tennessee, plastic is used to grow most crops during the season and a cover crop is used in the off season.
- Since 1992, we have used drip tape irrigation on the majority of our crops, in all locations.
- Drip tape irrigation is significantly more efficient than overhead irrigation and results in an approximate 20% increased efficiency in water usage.
- When we combine the drip tape with the plastic, we get even further improved efficiency as the plastic helps to keep the soil and root base moist.
- Laser leveling and GPS are also used to help conserve water and minimize run off.
- Healthy soil produces healthy plants. We put probiotics back into the soil to increase the microbial life (good bacteria) in the soil as well as provide digestive matter to encourage microbial life. A conservative estimate of 7% of our total production costs goes into ensuring that our soil is healthy through the use of probiotics and being ever mindful of the balance of microbial life in our soil.
- Through our drip tape, we are able to provide individualized treatment and fertilization methods throughout our fields. Our fields are broken up into smaller zones and each zone can be treated based on that zone’s need. This decreases the amount of inputs necessary since inputs through drip tape can be delivered directly to the root base and easily altered based on the plant needs.
- We utilize a crop rotation plan, which allows us to reduce our chemical inputs as well.
Pest and Disease Management
- Our crop rotation plan naturally suppresses the cycles of insects and diseases in the soil.
- Integrated Pest Management involves using beneficial insects to naturally control plant pests.
- Fields are scouted twice a week minimum for potential pests or disease problems. We then decide the best treatment practices.
- We don’t use a shotgun or blanket approach – each zone is evaluated individually for pests and diseases and then treated individually.
- We strive to support the natural health of both the plant and the soil. This means high microbial content in the soil, IPM strategies over chemical usage, and individualized treatment per zone when treatment becomes necessary.
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certification
- These practices mainly relate to sanitation, worker hygiene, quality of irrigation water, proper compost and pesticide usage, and post-harvest handling.
- The safety of our products is our #1 priority.
- All of our farms are GAP certified on an annual basis.
Other Efforts to Increase Sustainability
- Traditional DX cooling systems were changed to high-humidity forced-air systems, which results in 50% less energy consumption as well as increases the shelf life of the produce.
- Initiated our own calcium mining, which allows us to get more calcium and decrease our fertilizer usage by 25% and increases water retention.
- Irrigation wells converted from diesel to electric, which decreases our dependence on petroleum fuels.
- Green energy management systems have been installed, which decreases our electrical usage annually by 15%.
- Contract all our cardboard recyclables to NEWARK, who then converts into puzzles and game pieces sold by toy stores nationwide.
- Changed to Toyota’s Tier-4 Ultra Low Emissions Fork Lifts.
In 2009, Southern Valley partnered with Pratt Industries, the world’s largest, privately-held 100% recycled paper and packaging company. Due to this alignment, Southern Valley purchases 2,100 recycled tons of paper per year from Pratt Industries.
- This partnership saves 34,224 trees annually.
- It also saves the equivalency of water used by 482 homes for a year.
- We even cut out enough electric power usage to power 36 homes for 20 years.
- In addition, we are able to save enough landfill space to handle the waste of 90 people for 100 years.
- And decrease our Carbon Foot Print equal to the amount created by 1,416 people every month.
In 2015, we changed all of our traditional lighting to LED lighting, in our offices as well as our packing houses. This resulted in a 75.8% reduction in energy usage as it relates to lighting. The impact this has on the environment is equivalent to the reduction of annual greenhouse emissions from 84 passenger cars.
In 2016, we changed our traditional storage tank water heaters to a demand tankless water heater. As a result, our water heaters should now be 32-48% more energy efficient.