Farming black­cur­rants regen­er­a­tively

Farming black­cur­rants regen­er­a­tively for Ribena, Rosie Begg is in the driving seat of a new research project which aims to reduce green­house gas emis­sions during fruit produc­tion. Mari­anne Curtis finds out more.

Ribena is an iconic British brand, and its owner, Suntory, has launched a new project looking at how regen­er­a­tive farming prac­tices can reduce green­house gas emis­sions. The project, which also involves the Univer­sity of East Anglia and the Soil Ecology Labo­ra­tory, is taking place across most of Rosie Begg’s 60ha of black­cur­rant produc­tion at Gorgate Farm in Norfolk.

The aim is to reduce scope three emis­sions (indi­rect emis­sions that occur throughout a company’s value chain) from black­cur­rant produc­tion and improve soil health, so that the soil can support plant resilience and sequester more carbon.


The project aims to minimise external inputs while improving soil health, plant nutri­tion and envi­ron­mental protec­tion through:

  • Sap sampling to better under­stand and opti­mise black­cur­rant plant nutri­tion. Macro and micro-nutrient imbal­ances affect plant resilience, making them more suscep­tible to pests and diseases
  • Using novel and organic inputs to replace conven­tional inputs
  • Creating diverse alleyway swards to feed the soil
  • Improving soil health and carbon seques­tra­tion with compost extracts to restore soil micro­bi­ology.

Trea­sured memo­ries

Second gener­a­tion black­cur­rant grower and research lead, Rosie says her family has grown black­cur­rants for 24 years, although the farm has grown them since the 1950s. “My dad took on the Ribena contract in 1995. He very sadly died when I was 16. I have memo­ries of being on the back of the harvester during school holi­days – being a moody teenager at the time it didn’t feel very special but now I trea­sure those memo­ries on the farm with him.”

Black­cur­rant vari­eties grown on the farm include Gairn, Starav, Hope, Alder, Tirran and Klibreck. It also grows Victoria plums and arable crops.

Farmer Rosie Begg first helped with black­cur­rant harvesting as a teenager.

Sustain­able farming

Both Rosie and her husband Alex are dedi­cated to creating a sustain­able, resilient farming busi­ness fit for the future, so Gorgate felt like a natural fit to host the pilot project. “We are passionate about the oppor­tu­ni­ties for nature-friendly food produc­tion, habitat restora­tion and engaging local people on the impor­tance of this tran­si­tion,” says Rosie.

Before the project started in April, sustain­able prac­tices were already a key feature at the farm. “We are trialling different plants along the black­cur­rant alley­ways – yarrow to help reduce snails and phacelia to encourage polli­na­tors and reduce aphids. By increasing the insect popu­la­tion, we also hope to increase bird numbers,” she adds.

“We have a Higher-Level Coun­try­side Stew­ard­ship Scheme across the farm and are part of the Upper Wensum Cluster farm group – a land­scape-scale conser­va­tion project involving 22 farmers in the beau­tiful Upper Wensum river valley.”

Chal­lenging climatic and economic condi­tions in recent seasons have led Rosie Begg to adopt regen­er­a­tive farming prac­tices.

The project will involve creation of diverse alleyway swards.

Chal­lenging climatic and economic condi­tions over recent growing seasons have led Rosie to inves­ti­gate and adopt regen­er­a­tive farming prac­tices. “It’s thrilling to be able to bring in national experts and researchers to aid this ambi­tion, and to be so supported by our customer,” she says. “Collab­o­rating with Suntory’s global team will enable us to share our learn­ings and learn from regen­er­a­tive projects all over the world.”

My vision is to make our farm a resilient busi­ness, with all deci­sion-making being data-driven.

Rosie Begg

This project repre­sents a shift away from more conven­tional prac­tices. The prin­ci­ples are backed by cred­ible science but have yet to be commer­cially tested in peren­nial fruit systems, says Harriet Prosser, Suntory’s agron­o­mist. “We’re not just tack­ling green­house gas emis­sions, we’re looking to increase the amount of life in our soil, in turn improving soil health and fertility, which bene­fits the black­cur­rant itself.”
Soil is the most impor­tant ecosystem, adds Rosie. “It’s linked to every func­tion on the planet. By focusing on soil biology restora­tion, we can allow natural processes to support black­cur­rant produc­tion with less inter­ven­tion. My vision is to make our farm a resilient, diverse, exem­plary busi­ness fit for the future, with all deci­sion-making being data-driven.”


  • Suntory Beverage and Food GB & Ireland sources black­cur­rants for Ribena from 34 farms, with which it has a long­standing rela­tion­ship. The farms are located around the UK. The factory is based in Cole­ford in the Forest of Dean, Glouces­ter­shire
  • Suntory’s growers harvest 10,000t of black­cur­rants from 1,600ha each year
  • Ribena is made from a unique blend of 10 different black­cur­rant vari­eties, bred with the support of the James Hutton Insti­tute, which has been devel­oping new vari­eties for Ribena since 1956
  • The black­cur­rant harvest typi­cally starts in the first week of July and continues until mid-August.