Sun World CSR report shows commitment to farmworkers, environment

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Sun World CSR report shows commitment to farmworkers, environment

From water recharge basin projects to bee-friendly cover crops to farmworker education, California-based table grape company Sun World has highlighted a range of noteworthy initiatives in its first ever corporate responsibility (CSR) report.

The report details goals Sun World aims to achieve by 2022 with its "The Better Future Project", along with progress already made to date since the program was officially launched on Earth Day in 2017. 

Sun World CEO Merrill Dibble.

"With the publishing of our first corporate social responsibility report, we bring forward an element of transparency in our efforts to work towards a sustainable future,” Sun World CEO Merrill Dibble said in a release.

"The report, which will be released annually, holds us more accountable by publicly tracking the progress to our goals, and gives our stakeholders the opportunity to understand our vision for a better future."

The program is led by a cross-functional committee of Sun World employees who collaborate with farmworkers, scientists, engineers, non-profit organizations, and municipalities.

Farmworker and corporate initiatives

Goals over the next four years include training 2,500 farmworkers with skills that support career development and personal wellbeing, while in corporate initiatives the group seeks to improve the overall workplace safety performance of Sun World staff and continue to outperform industry averages.

"I am encouraged by our progress, such as being recognized by one of our key retail partners as the top grape supplier based on our sustainability performance," Dibble said.

"In the same way that we are always looking out for how we can deliver an even tastier grape, we are carefully cultivating sustainability into the way we do business—so that we grow to be better stewards of the land, natural resources, wildlife, and our people."

Since 2016, the company has partnered with the Farmworker Institute for Education and Leadership Development (FIELD) to offer free ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to farmworkers and their families.

Interest levels have been high with more than 600 workers registering each year, and even though it is challenging for many to attend, 120 have participated so far.

In 2017, Sun World donated funds to the non-profit organization, the Central Valley Farmworker Foundation, to offer personal wellbeing classes to farmworkers. To date, these opportunities include financial literacy, diabetes awareness and prevention education, and fitness classes.

Having launched a company safety program in 2015 to actively incentivize safe behavior in the work place, the group has exceeded its goals and achieved workplace illness and injury ratings well below the industry average.

"We will continue to explore creative ways to emphasize a “safety first” culture," Sun World said in the report.

"Although Sun World is proud to offer full-time employees and their families access to comprehensive benefits such as medical, dental, and vision coverage, flexible spending accounts, retirement accounts with company match, life insurance, and disability income protection, our benefits also go far beyond in the areas of health and wellness activities and education.

"In 2017, we launched an employee wellness initiative called Sun World Fitness, Inspiration and Teamwork (F.I.T.) to promote the wellbeing of our people in team-based activities. To date, Sun World F.I.T. has held five health and wellness challenges as well as sponsored two race events with a total of 130 staff participating."

Environmental initiatives

By 2022, Sun World aims to advance water conservation by sourcing 75% of our dry-year water supply from water it has recharged to the groundwater table, along with continuous improvement in water use efficiency.

The company now uses drip irrigation on 100% of its vineyards and has also undertaken a "rigorous irrigation management process" base on realtime soil moisture monitoring and local ranch weather stations. 

"We began using these soil moisture sensors in 2014 and by 2017 we had successfully expanded them to 98 percent of our acreage," Sun World said in the report. 

"Second, we set aside a portion of our farmland and partnered with sister company, Homer LLC, to build six water recharge basins that are helping to restore groundwater levels. 

"We also partnered with local water districts to build additional basin projects on a total of 550 acres of land set aside to help manage water availability."

As 2017 was a particularly wet year, the Sun World and Homer water basins were able to capture approximately 120,000 acre-feet of water.

"To put it in perspective, this volume of water is roughly equivalent to the volume necessary to support Sun World’s entire Central Valley water needs for six years," the report said.

"Key to this effort is this water is shared with the local community to help provide critical water resources to our neighbors."

Over the next four years Sun World has also set the goal to generate 10% of its power from renewable sources to reduce dependency on power generated from fossil fuels.

The company has made strides in soil and bee health that has garnered recognition from experts in the area.

"There is no doubt that growing grapes is what we’re best at. But, we also grow a significant amount of cover crops and hedgerows that help enrich soil and maintain optimal soil health for our vines," Sun World said in the report.

"Through this effort, we became the first commercial grape grower to be given the designation of Certified Bee Friendly Farms from the Pollinator Partnership. 

"We also expanded the plantings to include forage for butterfly species, including the imperiled Monarch butterfly, and insecteating birds for pest control."

To build on this initiative, Sun World intends to plant 50% of its acres with cover crops and hedgerows to support soil health and at-risk bee populations. 

We will continue our investment in establishing more acreage with these pollinator-friendly cover crops and hedgerows that attract bees, butterflies, and birds and do our part to sustain bee health."

"While grapes do not need bees for pollination, our neighboring growers need a strong bee population to sustain our global food supply," said the company's David Fenn, who is leading the project.

"In this way we can support our grower community and gain soil health at the same time by choosing to use certain cover crops."

Varietal innovation and diversification into organics

Saving water and protecting soil doesn't just come from how a company uses its agricultural inputs, but also in how well varieties hold up to weather conditions.

As a breeder, Sun World is also looking for ways to improve the sustainability of table grapes from a genetic perspective, however emphasizing that this is through natural means and not GMO.

"Our research teams also look for varieties with higher yield and greater disease and pest resistance to reduce the need for water and chemical fertilizers and pesticides," the company said.

"We use traditional breeding processes that require patience and a good eye, informed by meaningful data. This approach has been helping us more rapidly find varieties that require fewer inputs to produce high quality grapes."

The company also expects to have its first organic table grape harvest next year as a result of a move to switch part of its conventional acreage to organic through the National Organic Program (NOP) in 2016.


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