The food supply chain, including supermarkets and brands, is under increasing pressure to reduce carbon emissions. However, with most carbon said to be generated in the farm production phase, their scope is limited unless they engage with farmers.
Speaking at the Sustainable Futures conference, held in York, Future Food Solutions director Paul Rhodes said carbon offered an opportunity to change the dynamics of the supply chain. “At the moment the power is with the big retailers and corporate brands. However, if farmers can offer a carbon-free product or carbon sequestration there is the opportunity to leverage carbon on farms to get a better return hopefully for the next 10, 15 or 20 years.”
Mr Rhodes said Future Food Solutions had been working with Wold Top Brewery, near Driffield, East Yorkshire, to develop carbon zero beer and whisky. “We have been doing this through growing cover crops and barley with companion crops.”
However, raising the profile of cover crops among the general public needed a rebranding exercise, suggested Mr Rhodes. “The Amazon rainforest is seen as the lungs of the world. Cover crops don’t mean much to the general public – but what if we called them an arable pop-up rainforest?”
Over seven weeks, cover crops produce 40 tonnes/hectare of organic matter in the canopy and 20t/ha in the root structure which is equivalent to 28t of carbon, said Mr Rhodes. “Seven tonnes of this carbon is sequestered whereas with trees, only 4t is sequestered.”
Somewhat sceptical about carbon markets, Mark Suthern, head of UK agriculture at Barclays Bank likened the current situation to when videotape first came out. “The challenge is different ways of measuring carbon. There is no standard. Until we find consistency I can’t see where the income stream is from the sale. We need to push for a regulated market.”
Sustainable Futures is a programme initiated and delivered by Future Food Solutions, a firm of supply chain specialists working across the whole supply chain with strong brand connections. Directors of Future Food Solutions are Steve Cann and Paul Rhodes. They are working on ways to lock sustainability actions into the supply chain.