With the climate emergency moving up the agenda, Morrisons has set an ambitious net zero carbon target for its agricultural supply chains. Jez Fredenburgh reports.
T ackling climate change makes good business sense – it builds resilience, drives innovation and creates efficiencies.
And with talk of a post-Covid-19 ‘green recovery’, now is as good a chance as any to bring about lasting change.
With this in mind, Morrisons has set out an ambitious target to make its agricultural supply chains net zero in carbon emissions by 2030, as livestock buyer George Clapham explains.
He says: “We support the NFU target of reaching net zero by 2040, but since we have such an integrated supply chain to work with, we thought we could go one step further.
“I’m proud we have an ambitious target and are working directly with UK farmers to achieve it.
There will be increasing pressure from customers on all industries to reduce their CO2 in the future.” The retailer will work with farmer-suppliers to establish carbon emission baselines, so emissions can be monitored and balanced with sequestration.
Morrisons has already begun contacting its suppliers with beef farmers being the first, followed by dairy producers, says Sophie Throup, the retailer’s head of agriculture, fisheries and sustainable sourcing.
She says: “We are looking at innovative new ways of reducing the greenhouse gases produced by cattle via alternative types of feed.
The dairy industry also tends to have other fuel and electricity inputs, which means thinking about alternative energy uses is important from a farm costings perspective, as well as climate change mitigation.
“The examples [see panels] show what can be achieved on a farm level, but combining these efforts and working together across different production systems is really where net zero efforts will start to make a difference.” George believes many farmers are already thinking about, or acting on, climate change and key to that will be providing ongoing business support.
He says: “As part of the project we will be working with farmers across our supply chains to share best practice as well as using selected consultants to help advise changes which can be made.
It is also about helping our farmers be more efficient, which benefits their bottom line.” Changes might include reducing slaughter dates, increasing liveweight gain, reducing fuel usage, planting trees and producing home-grown feed and fertilisers, says George.
Mixed farming systems are looking particularly useful, he adds.
“Any forward-thinking, progressive farmer we have spoken to is interested.
Our customers tell us that looking after the environment is a top concern and as a responsible business we are planning to do everything we can to limit the amount of carbon our supply chains use.” Morrisons has also set a net zero target across its entire operations by 2040 and is working with the Carbon Trust to establish a ‘science-based’ target which will help keep global warming well below 2degC, as set out in the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.
As a major cheese supplier for Morrisons, Lactalis is making strides to promote sustainable food production standards.
In October 2019, it launched the Lactalis Sourcing Standard, alongside the Red Tractor Scheme, which consolidated into a single document what is expected from farmer suppliers.
As part of this, the processor made a commitment to carry out a carbon audit on each of its farms supplying the creamery in Stranraer.
With the support of the Scottish Government, it worked with AB Sustain and audited 95 per cent of its farmers to establish the baselines of their carbon production just before lockdown happened.
Matt Friel, procurement director at Lactalis UK and Ireland, says: “We all have a responsibility to help combat climate change and we are committed to playing our part, as well as supporting Morrisons [to achieve] net zero.
“The support from our farmers has been overwhelmingly positive as our producers realise the entire supply chain, from field to fork, has a role to play in combating climate change.” To support the rollout, a development group has launched and, working with Kite Consultancy, Lactalis will develop specific programmes and workshops to tackle some of the major issues affecting farmers and the dairy industry, such as antibiotic use, animal welfare and health and safety on-farm.
Matt says: “How we can reduce our carbon footprint will become part of theg roup’s process, with workshops focusing on practical ways our farmers can reduce carbon emissions.
“Once we have created a baseline for our entire milk field, each of our farmers will receive an individual report which outlines their current position and how they benchmark against other producers in the milk field, which will highlight areas that could be investigated to drive improvement.
This will be part of an ongoing process.” While the processor works to its key environmental targets going forward, Matt believes a collaborative approach is fundamental to achieving ambitious and sustainable food production.
He says: “Everyone in the supply chain has a part to play and the dairy sector has a great opportunity to positively contribute and help solve the climate challenge our planet is facing.
A positive first step farmers could take would be to focus on improvements which do not have an associated cost or which could actually deliver a positive return, such as better feed conversion, genetic improvements or through better use of farmyard manure.”
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