We are hiring: Customer Success Consultant

Blue North Sustainability is currently looking for a person that can fulfill a role in the Customer Success function.

Blue North Sustainability is a purpose-driven consulting practice focused on agriculture and the food system. We are based in Stellenbosch and have an established position supporting farmers, exporters, importers and retailers across international agricultural and food supply-chains in the development and implementation of strategies and programs-of-change aimed at achieving lasting sustainability outcomes. We manage a portfolio of online applications that directly support proactive management of sustainability-related risks on farms and across supply-chains, the Sherpa sustainability management system and Confronting Climate Change.

The successful candidate would have a passion for sustainability, great customer engagement and people skills, and would naturally align with our core values.

 

Activities will include, inter alia:

Customer account management; including:

    • Customer relationship management.
    • Communicating and engaging with customers as needed.
    • Being an approachable and reliable point of contact and leading meetings with customers.
    • Maintaining a positive, empathetic, and professional attitude toward customers at all times.
    • Building sustainable relationships and trust through open and interactive communication.

Project management, project reporting, and coordination of projects that may be cross cutting other functions in the team.

Customer support; including:

    • On-boarding of management teams, training presentations and demonstrations,
    • Online support calls,
    • Customer profile and system setup.
    • Providing customers with system implementation advice.
    • Preparing bespoke insights, guidance and recommendations for management teams.
    • Responding to help desk support queries timeously.

Providing support to the broader team as needed.

Data collection support, related admin and sense-checking.

 

We are looking for an individual with the following attributes:

  • A genuine passion for sustainability with an appropriate level of understanding and knowledge of sustainability issues and solutions in primary production and the food industry.
  • BEng, BSc, BCom, or similar
  • Experience in the agricultural industry would be beneficial
  • At least 1 year of work experience
  • Ability to work independently, to take initiative and ownership
  • Ability to work well in a team
  • Ability to take ownership and initiative is key
  • Good time management and prioritisation skills
  • Good communication and presentation skills
  • Excellent understanding of agriculture & food supply chains
  • Ability to build long-term customer relationships
  • Drive to satisfy customers
  • Conscientious
  • Active listening skills
  • Adaptable
  • Problem solving skills
  • Ability to work well under pressure
  • Comfortable in the use of IT platforms
  • Excellent English and Afrikaans verbal and written skills
  • An understanding of Spanish would be a bonus
  • Based in Stellenbosch region or surrounds
  • Have a valid SA drivers’ license and own transport

 

What do we offer?

  • An opportunity to join a purpose-driven business
  • An opportunity to work with a dynamic team within a growing business
  • An international business environment working with a local & international client base and international technology partners

 

Practicalities:

To apply for this role please submit the following to nine@exceed.co.za:

  • A detailed cover letter that clearly and decisively motivates why you are interested in the role, why you believe you have something to offer us and what specific attributes you could bring to our team.
  • An up-to-date CV
  • At least two contactable references

 

FruitLook Case Study: De Rust

The FruitLook Team sat down with Karin Clüver, the production director at De Rust, in 2021 to explore how FruitLook has helped her farm more efficiently. Three years later, we reconnected with Karin to reflect on FruitLook’s continual ability to enhance efficiency on the De Rust farm.
Read more

FruitLook’s Evolution: From Vineyard Tool to Comprehensive Crop Management Solution

In the water-scarce region of the Western Cape of South Africa, where droughts frequently impact agricultural output and food security, innovative solutions for water management are essential. Eight of the top ten export products of the Western Cape are fully reliant on irrigation, driving the province’s economy and job market. In response to the pressing need for efficient water use, the Western Cape Department of Agriculture (WCDoA) partnered with the Dutch company eLEAF to develop FruitLook, a satellite-based solution for optimising irrigation water management. Since its inception in 2010-2011, FruitLook has been offered to Western Cape farmers at no cost, transforming the way they manage their water resources. 

Origins and Development 

The foundation of FruitLook can be traced back to the early 2000s. Water Watch, the predecessor to eLEAF, conducted the earliest feasibility studies of remote sensing technology in 2003-2004. This led to the creation of GrapeLook in 2010, which eventually evolved into FruitLook. Initially focused on vineyards, FruitLook has significantly expanded its scope to cover various agricultural commodities in the Western Cape, now spanning an impressive 13 million hectares. 

Harnessing Satellite Technology for Agriculture 

Since 2010, FruitLook has been at the forefront of providing Western Cape farmers with cutting-edge, satellite-based crop monitoring via its web-based portal (www.fruitlook.co.za). The foundation of FruitLook’s technology lies in the energy balance algorithm, ETLook. This algorithm, developed and continuously improved by eLEAF over the past 20+ years, has been scientifically tested and calibrated for significant agricultural areas, including the Western Cape. eLEAF, the developer and owner of SEBAL1,2,3 and its successor ETLook, was the first in the world to operationalise energy balance algorithms to provide evapotranspiration (ET) and biomass production data in near real-time using satellite imagery. 

FruitLook’s data production process relies on multispectral and thermal satellite information. High-resolution data from freely available satellite repositories, such as Sentinel-2 and Landsat 8 and 9, as well as VIIRS and MODIS, are used to provide field-scale information. The project area encompasses four Sentinel-2 pathways and ten Landsat-8 and 9 tiles. Additionally, local meteorological field data (mainly from a South African company, Hortec) is incorporated to enhance the accuracy of the generated data. Since October 2021, the resolution of FruitLook data has improved to 10-meter pixels, doubling its previous resolution of 20 meters. 

FruitLook generates weekly data on nine different parameters related to crop growth, water consumption, and plant nitrogen content. This information enables farmers to assess crop development and implement timely, efficient mitigation measures, enhancing overall agricultural efficiency. This initiative stands as a testament to the transformative potential of technology in addressing the challenges of modern agriculture. 

Impact on Water Management and Agricultural Resilience 

FruitLook’s data has proven extremely valuable in water management, allowing farmers to compare field water consumption, assess water shortages, detect crop stress, and evaluate irrigation efficiency. The tool also aids in the strategic placement and interpretation of probes and the detection of irrigation system leakages. The severe drought of 2017-2018 in the Western Cape underscored FruitLook’s critical role, as its satellite-based data helped assess the drought’s impact in regions like the Groenland Water Management Area and the Lower Olifants Water Management Area. 

Farmer Testimonials and Practical Applications 

Farmers across the Western Cape have benefited from FruitLook’s data and have shared their testimonials and practical applications of the tool and its data in 20 different case studies* over the past three years. In one such case study, Alan Hall, a citrus grower from Citrusdal, shared how he uses FruitLook to ensure water security, enhance tree health, and maintain consistent production despite limited water resources. 

Technological Integration and Support 

Implemented by eLEAF and supported by a South African company, Blue North Sustainability, since 2019, FruitLook has continuously evolved to meet the needs of Western Cape farmers. In August 2021, a new FruitLook web portal was launched, featuring an improved user interface and enhanced data accessibility. This upgrade allows users to compare fields, identify in-field anomalies, and make informed decisions based on comprehensive spatial data. 

To further support users, the following initiatives have been implemented: 

  • The FruitLook Stakeholder Board, inaugurated in 2020, helps gather feedback from users to continuously improve the service. 
  • Free of charge weekly online training sessions, monthly workshops (in-person), and occasional farm visits have been held. Additionally, FruitLook has been presented at Farmer’s Days or Study Groups, symposiums, conferences, and to students at tertiary institutions. 
  • A dedicated support desk is accessible via email, phone, or WhatsApp. 
  • A YouTube channel featuring FruitLook tutorials, webinars, and learnings from FruitLook users. 
  • A monthly newsletter updating the user base about new FruitLook features, case studies, training opportunities and other news.  

Future Prospects and Commercialization 

As climate models predict increasing climatic variability, tools like FruitLook will become even more crucial for sustainable agriculture in the Western Cape. Looking ahead, WCDoA and eLEAF are exploring ways to continue the FruitLook service and add possible improvements to continue supporting Western Cape farmers in efficient and sustainable farming.  

Conclusion 

FruitLook has transformed from a vineyard-focused tool into a comprehensive agricultural resource, demonstrating the power of technology in supporting sustainable farming practices and ensuring food security. With ongoing advancements in technology, FruitLook is poised to continue its vital role in enhancing agricultural resilience in the Western Cape. 

 

*Case studies can be found on Blue North’s News page. 

Water Stewardship Case Study: Viru (Peru)

Retailers and consumers globally are urging the supply chain to enhance its understanding of water usage and promote sustainable practices. Responding to this imperative, Worldwide Fruit Limited (WFL) actively invest in water stewardship initiatives across their global supply base. As part of their Courtauld Commitments, they are presenting a series of case studies from their strategic  farmers  growing in water vulnerable regions.

This case study showcases Virú, a Peruvian company and strategic avocado supply chain partner for WFL, is the 18th case study in the series and highlights the current water situation in its main avocado-growing region, La Libertad (Chavimochic Irrigation Project). Virú integrates sustainability into its corporate strategy and operations, employing efficient water-use methodologies despite an abundant water supply. The company is committed to developing and implementing strategies to address and mitigate challenges from floods and water scarcity due to climate change.

Read the full case study here.

Over the next few months, the case studies from supplying farms will not only focus on water stewardship initiatives, but also address the social-ethical impact of crop production on the workforce (safe WASH), local communities and the environment.

Advancing Water Stewardship and Sustainability in Global Agriculture

Retailers and consumers globally are urging the supply chain to enhance its understanding of water usage and promote sustainable practices. Responding to this imperative, Worldwide Fruit Limited (WFL) has been actively investing in water stewardship initiatives across their global supply base. As part of their Courtauld Commitments, they have been presenting case studies from their strategic farmers growing in water-vulnerable regions since 2021 with the help of South African company, Blue North Sustainability.

The case studies aim to raise awareness of the challenges that South African, Peruvian, Spanish, and New Zealand growers deal with daily. However, the focus is not only on the challenges but also on the lessons learned and the success stories, showcasing where growers are on their journey to using water more sustainably. Beyond water, the case studies investigate current sustainability strategies and plans for future improvements in sustainability.

Over the next few months, WFL will be introducing a crucial new component to the case studies. They will be addressing the social-ethical impact of crop production on the workforce (safe WASH), local communities, and the environment.

Keep an eye out for soon-to-be-published case studies on Agrokasa and Agricola Chapi. Both are avocado growers in the Ica region of Peru, where water resources have been under severe pressure, and providing safe WASH to these communities has been a critical focus. These companies are going above and beyond to implement sustainable and social-ethical practices. They are investing in a modern water treatment plant and enforcing strict policies on safe WASH for their workforce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tools for Transformation: How Blue North Empowers Change

The “sustainability challenge” is fundamentally one of change. It implies an acceptance of the idea that our current modes of living and doing business are not achieving the outcomes we desire and are, in fact, resulting in multiple, accelerating, negatives. Fundamental change is required.

Dr Eli Goldratt, the father of the Theory of Constraints, famously stated “all improvement is a change, but not all change is an improvement”. How do we know if our efforts to change in response to the sustainability challenge will deliver real improvement and not just result in “spinning our wheels” or worse, causing more damage? At Blue North Sustainability we believe that the distinction between weak and strong sustainability is the key to answering this.

In short, strong sustainability provides the principles for living within the laws and limits of nature, i.e., within the carrying capacity of planet Earth. In contrast, weak sustainability perpetuates the illusion that we can live without any planetary constraints, a worldview that underpins modern economic theory and which has led to our current difficulties. A second distinction that can be made about change is that it can either be imposed on us by the greater system and responded to in a reactive way, or it can be proactively and pre-emptively managed and led.

By considering these two parameters—strong versus weak sustainability and reactive versus proactive approaches to change—we can build a simple yet powerful matrix to think about change in the context of the greater sustainability challenge. We characterize individuals, businesses, or economies within each quadrant of the matrix as follows:

Reactive/Weak: Pragmatists (respond to regulations and requirements for change as needed – “tick the boxes” while leaving business-as-usual largely unchanged)

Proactive/Weak: Celebrities (look to lead the response to the sustainability challenge as a means to drive market growth. Tell a good story but leave business-as-usual largely unchanged)

Reactive/Strong: Lone-stars (inward focussed deep change informed by the right understanding and thinking – aim to go “off grid” and become an island of excellence with no motivation to inspire a wider change)

Proactive/Strong: Transformers (drive internal deep change inspired by the right understanding and thinking, aiming to be an inspiration and catalyst for wider socio-economic change, understanding that the change needs to be system-wide)

We have incorporated this framework into our vision and strategy as a business. Essentially, we have challenged ourselves to be a consultancy that assists actors across the greater agri/food system to undertake the journey into the Transformer quadrant.

We have very intentionally designed our product and consulting offering around this ambition. For example, the SHERPA sustainability management system deeply embeds strong sustainability within its content. It is designed to challenge and assist decision-makers plot the course towards the transformer quadrant and measure their progress as they embark on that journey. The Confronting Climate Change (CCC) online carbon calculator provides decision-makers with deep insight into the impacts of their business-as-usual activities in terms of the emissions that result, and provides the feedback to identify the pathways towards lower impact modes of operating. Similarly, we have strong sustainability embedded in all our consulting engagements, be it in our Science Based Targets (SBT) work, the Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) we do or in our general advisory work supporting companies developing and implementing their sustainability strategies.

In summary, change is needed, but change of the right type is imperative. We believe that proactive change inspired by the strong sustainability worldview is the only type that will lead to real improvement. Any other type will just accelerate our unsustainability. We have designed our business, our products and services to facilitate and support our growing client base on this transformational journey. Join us on the adventure!

 

 

 

We are hiring: LCA/Carbon Footprint Consultant

Blue North Sustainability is a purpose-driven consulting practice focused on agriculture and the food system. We have an established position supporting farmers, exporters, importers, and retailers across international agricultural and food supply chains in the development and implementation of strategies and programs of change aimed at achieving lasting sustainability outcomes. Blue North runs a range of consulting projects as well as a portfolio of online applications that directly support proactive management of sustainability-related risks on farms and across supply chains. We are a team of passionate sustainability practitioners committed to inspiring and supporting the deep change required to ensure their farming and food systems are truly sustainable. If this aligns with your passions and interests, please read further.

Job Description: 

  • Delivery of our various CF & LCA consulting projects and products
  • Building CF, LCA and carbon sequestration models and data collection tools
  • Interpreting and integrating the latest CF, LCA and sequestration/removal protocols and standards
  • Sense checking client CF & LCA data
  • Project management
  • Client engagement
  • Undertaking desk and field research in the relevant fields
  • Developing bespoke emissions and sequestration calculation tools & solutions; and report writing

Qualifications: 

  • Undergraduate or post-graduate degree in Engineering (Chemical, Industrial or similar).
  • Some work experience will be an advantage.
  • Strong analytical and numerical skills.
  • Ability to research, interpret and apply detailed CF, LCA and sequestration methodologies and protocols.
  • Work experience with the GHG Protocol Corporate standard will be an advantage.
  • The ability to work with LCA software such as OpenLCA and SimaPro will be an advantage.
  • Ability to work in a multi-disciplinary team environment with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Ability to present results/recommendations to individuals & groups.
  • Ability to build positive relationships – particularly with farmers.
  • Confidence in engaging potential and current clients via phone or virtual meetings.
  • Good proficiency in Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.

How to Apply: 

  • Email your comprehensive CV to exceedhr@exceed.co.za. 
  • If you are already registered, please forward your CV and the relevant reference number to the consultant with whom you are currently registered in order to avoid duplicity on our system. 
  • We reserve the right to only conduct interviews with candidates of choice. 
  • Applicants who have not received feedback within 30 days from the closing date must please accept their application as unsuccessful. 
NexusAG, plant nutrition, remote sensing data, irrigation

FruitLook Case Study: Wiesie Burger (NexusAG)

The FruitLook Team recently sat down with Wiesie Burger, a technical manager at NexusAG, to learn how FruitLook supports her to provide growers with valuable advice on how they can farm more efficiently.
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Rooted in Sustainability: Harnessing the Power of Cover Crops

Agricultural sustainability means meeting the current needs of society without jeopardizing the needs of future generations [1]. Today, this requires an agroecosystems and food systems perspective that supports ecosystem services [2] and prioritizes resilience and adaptability [1].  A sustainable agroecosystem aims to use natural resources to regenerate productivity while mitigating adverse effects on ecosystems within and beyond the confines of the farm [3]. Farmers pursue these objectives by utilising existing natural processes and integrating the functions of natural ecosystems into their farming systems.

Cover crops serve as a crucial tool in achieving agricultural sustainability. These crops, integrated into cash crop rotations, are strategically planted alongside or between cash crops to maintain continuous soil cover [4]. They can serve as either living or dead mulch on the soil surface, or they can be incorporated into the soil as green manure [2, 4]. The selection of cover crop species and timing of cover crop planting depends on the specific objectives of the production system [2]. For instance, if the goal is winter grazing, temperate species might be chosen to thrive post-cash crop harvest. Alternatively, for weed or pest suppression, species that grow concurrently with cash crops may be preferred. Cover crop selection is diverse, tailored to fit into crop rotations at various stages, rather than relying on a single option for each operation.

Photo by Matthew Rumph on Unsplash

Choosing suitable cover crops requires careful consideration of one’s specific operating system, taking into account factors such as climatic and soil conditions  and operational objectives [2]. For drought-prone regions, selecting drought-resistant cover crops is essential to avoid competition with cash crops for water. Irrigated areas typically offer a broader range of cover crop options compared to dry-land systems. Integrated crop and livestock operations benefit from nutrient-rich cover crops that thrive during dry or unproductive seasons to support livestock feed. Some orchard cover crops might be chosen based on their tolerance to shade.

Typically, cover crops are planted before or after the cash crop. Machinery commonly used for planting cover crops includes grain drills, conventional maize planters (offering precise control over seeding rates and placement), and broadcast planters. Precision planters enable farmers to minimize seeding rates, leading to cost savings on seeds. Multiple studies have indicated that cover crops used in combination with a conservation tillage system has a greater effect on improving soil quality and increasing crop yields [5-7]. Conservation Tillage is characterized by a tillage method or a combination of tillage and planting that maintains a crop residue cover of 30% or more on the soil surface. [8].

As climate change alters weather patterns, such as increased rainfall leading to soil erosion and nutrient runoff, or drought emphasizing water conservation, cover crops become crucial. Some of the benefits of cover crops include [2, 9-11]:

  • Their roots undergo turnover, increasing soil organic matter and enhancing soil texture by forming stable aggregates. This reduces runoff while improving water-holding capacity and resisting soil erosion. Additionally, cover crop roots aid soil aeration, reducing compaction and waterlogging.
  • Cover crops reduce the kinetic energy of the raindrops on the ground.
  • Leguminous cover crops like clover and vetch can fix atmospheric nitrogen (N), and retain excess soil N for the following growing season, reducing the need for synthetic agrochemicals and decreasing pollution from the eutrophication of local water sources.
  • Cover crops provide shading at the soil level, which cools the soil surface, maintaining a stable microclimate and preventing excess evaporation of soil moisture.
  • Some cover crops can be harvested for additional income or used as forage for livestock post-cash crop harvest, enhancing nutrient cycling from livestock dung and urine, reducing reliance on synthetic agrochemical inputs, and aiding livestock weight maintenance during unproductive seasons.
  • Integrating cover crops into crop rotation systems can break pest and disease cycles, attract pollinators and control pests by providing a habitat for beneficial predators.
  • They suppress weeds by outcompeting them for resources like space, sunlight, nutrients, and moisture or through the release of allelopathic exudates.

These benefits ultimately contribute to increased cash crop yields.

Selecting the appropriate cover crop for your operation and climate is crucial, as choosing the wrong one can result in adverse effects. The degree and duration of benefits from cover crops are influenced by factors such as climate, management practices, and genetics. Cover crops may immobilize N or deplete soil moisture, leading to yield losses in subsequent crops. Improperly managed cover crops may prove challenging to terminate, produce seeds, and potentially evolve into weeds. Additionally, short-term economic costs, such as seed, fuel, and planting expenses, which may not immediately offset the benefits of cover crops, but long-term advantages are often realized [12].

To ensure you select the appropriate cover crops for your operation system and climate, consider consulting local agricultural extension services, regional agricultural universities, experienced farmers in your area, and online resources from reputable agricultural organizations. Additionally, agricultural publications, government agricultural departments, and online databases specific to your region can provide valuable information on cover crop selection based on local conditions and climate.

In conclusion, agricultural sustainability requires a holistic approach that integrates agroecosystems and food systems, prioritizing resilience, adaptability, and the preservation of ecosystem services. Cover crops emerge as a vital tool in achieving these goals, offering multifaceted benefits such as soil conservation, nutrient management, weed suppression, and climate resilience. However, the successful integration of cover crops relies upon careful selection tailored to specific operational needs, climate conditions, and management objectives. While challenges such as potential yield losses and management complexities exist, the long-term advantages of cover crops outweigh these concerns. To navigate the complexities of cover crop selection effectively, accessing a diverse array of resources and seeking expert guidance is paramount. By embracing cover crops as an integral component of sustainable agricultural practices, farmers can cultivate resilient and productive farming systems that meet the needs of both present and future generations.

 

References

  1. Brodt, S., Six, J., Feenstra, G., Ingels, C. & Campbell, D. . Sustainable Agriculture. Nature Education Knowledge 2011; 3(10):1:[Available from: https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/sustainable-agriculture-23562787/.
  2. Adetunji, A.T., et al., Management impact and benefit of cover crops on soil quality: A review. Soil and Tillage Research, 2020. 204: p. 104717.
  3. Hawes, C., P.P. Iannetta, and G.R. Squire, Agroecological practices for whole-system sustainability. CABI Reviews, 2021(2021).
  4. Benedict, C., C.G. Cogger, and N.N. Andrews, Methods for successful cover crop management in your home garden. 2014.
  5. Blanco‐Canqui, H., M. Claassen, and D. Presley, Summer cover crops fix nitrogen, increase crop yield, and improve soil–crop relationships. Agronomy journal, 2012. 104(1): p. 137-147.
  6. Sainju, U.M. and B.P. Singh, Winter cover crops for sustainable agricultural systems: influence on soil properties, water quality, and crop yields. HortScience, 1997. 32(1): p. 21-28.
  7. dos Santos Cordeiro, C.F., F.R. Echer, and F.F. Araujo, Cover crops impact crops yields by improving microbiological activity and fertility in sandy soil. Journal of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, 2021. 21(3): p. 1968-1977.
  8. Derpsch, R., Conservation tillage, no-tillage and related technologies, in Conservation agriculture: environment, farmers experiences, innovations, socio-economy, policy. 2003, Springer. p. 181-190.
  9. Bjorkman, T., Cavigelli, M., Dostie, D., Faulkner, J., Knight, L.G., Mirsky, S., Smith, B. Cover Cropping to Improve Climate Resilience. Northeast Climate Hub 2019; Available from: https://www.climatehubs.usda.gov/sites/default/files/CoverCropsFactsheet_Feb2019_web508.pdf.
  10. Cordeau, S., et al., Weed species differ in their ability to emerge in notill systems that include cover crops. Annals of Applied Biology, 2015. 166(3): p. 444-455.
  11. Masilionyte, L., et al., Effect of cover crops in smothering weeds and volunteer plants in alternative farming systems. Crop Protection, 2017. 91: p. 74-81.
  12. Clark, C. Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations. 2015; Available from: https://www.sare.org/resources/cover-crops/.

 

FruitLook Case Study, pome fruit producer from Villiersdorp

FruitLook Case Study: Lochlo Farm

The FruitLook Team recently sat down with Hendrik Schoeman, a pome fruit producer from Lochlo Farm in the Villiersdorp area of the Western Cape province, to learn more about how FruitLook supports him in farming more efficiently.
Read more