How the demand for organic is leading to sustainable practices

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A new round of Coles Nurture Fund recipients from across the country have ambitious plans for innovative sustainability projects to meet growing consumer demand for organic products.

Not so long ago, only health food stores carried organic products, today they are an integral part of the supermarket.

What was once a small part of a forgotten aisle has grown steadily over the years as customers vote with their wallets, choosing organic beef over bulk meat, free-range eggs over caged chickens, and pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.

To expand the range of products available, Coles established the Nurture Fund in 2015 and has since funded innovative growers across Australia with US$30 million.

This week, the supermarket made substantial sustainability grants to six other small and medium-sized businesses.

Peninsula Fresh Organics, a family business, received a $300,000 grant. Founder Wayne Shields said the grant would have “a significant impact on our environmental and business sustainability.”

“With this grant, we’re reducing our environmental footprint through significant water savings and prevention of nutrient losses, while improving product quality,” he said.

The transformation of the irrigation infrastructure at the two farms in Baxter, Victoria, and Barham, NSW, will save 60 million liters of water per year and prevent nutrients from entering local water bodies. The money is also paid for a cold room to improve the shelf life of the products.

Coles Group CEO Steven Cain said Coles is proud to support new innovative and sustainable projects through the fund.

“We are pleased to have now awarded $30 million in financial support through the Coles Nurture Fund to help drive innovation and generational sustainability on Australian farms and manufacturing sites,” he said.

“At Coles we aim to be the most sustainable supermarket in Australia and we actively work with our food, food and beverage partners to inspire customers and continue on our sustainability journey by helping to increase local production, reduce emissions and increase recycling.”

Other grant recipients include Queensland’s Mt Alma Organics and Agricultural Networks, who will use the grants to produce a greater variety and volume of organic fruit and vegetables. McMahon Family Enterprises in South Australia, Jalna Feedlot in Victoria and Elansco in Tasmania received grants to improve sustainable meat production.

Gary and Angela Spotswood, owners of Mt. Alma Organics, said they were “ecstatic.”

“(We) are excited that our plans to improve production in our packing shed and increase our growing capacity can materialize much sooner,” said Mr. Spotswood.

“We look forward to working with Coles and bringing even more of our delicious, healthy, organic products to Australian families.”

Also successful was Agricultural Networks, whose operations manager Rodney Tripp said the company was “thrilled”.

“Over the past three years, Agricultural Networks has established an organic grower group and packing facility in Gympie, South Queensland to exclusively supply organic fruit and vegetables to Coles,” he said.

“This grant will be used to expand the range and volume of organic produce supplied to Coles by developing a second organic center in Gatton, including a dedicated packhouse, and to facilitate the transition of more growers from conventional to to support organic farming methods.”

Jalna Feedlot’s David Gillett said they were “very grateful” for funding a solar energy project to reduce emissions from their beef production for Coles’ carbon neutral beef range.

“The funding will help us meet our goal of reducing our carbon emissions, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and generating clean renewable energy by installing a solar power system on the roof of the Jalna Feedlot,” Mr Gillett said.

Elansco’s $295,000 grant, owned and managed by Lauchlan and Sarah Cole, will enable the construction of a covert facility to improve the handling, welfare and management of lambs during the Tasmanian winter . The couple said they were “ecstatic”.

“As a proud Tasmanian farming family committed to innovation, sustainable agriculture and good animal husbandry, we are delighted to be recipients of a Coles Nurture Fund,” said Mr. Cole. “The grant will enable us to increase the supply of high-quality, 100 percent pasture-fed lamb at a year-round facility, reinforce our commitment to sustainability, and further support companies in the paddock-to-plate supply chain.

“The investment will also underscore our continued commitment to nurturing our land and growing our business for our children and future generations.

“We sincerely thank Coles for this groundbreaking funding, which allows us to open the doors wide and encourage other Australian farmers to apply to the Coles Nurture Fund.”

The McMahon Family Enterprises, better known as McPiggery, SA, said the grant “meant a lot.”

“This means that we can operate sustainably,” said operator Kim Thorpe. “Sustainability means a lot to us. In this way we can ensure that we are more resilient for the future, not only from a financial point of view, but also from a social and environmental point of view.

“We are custodians of the land and with that comes responsibility. We look forward to implementing new systems and technologies that will enable us to be at the forefront of environmental stewardship and leave our business and land in the best possible condition so that future generations can continue our farming legacy.”

Celebrity chef Curtis Stone was a panelist for the Coles Nurture Fund and said all six producers were worthy recipients.

“Australia produces some of the highest quality food in the world and it’s exciting to see our Australian farmers and producers consistently coming up with innovations that contribute to a more sustainable future for our agricultural sector,” he said.

“With applications from this round emphasizing organic produce and sustainability, it is important that we at Coles are able to support these farmers in implementing initiatives that will rejuvenate and expand Australia’s food sector.”

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