You will no doubt recall that the major contributor to our supply chain carbon footprint is the growing of barley (see right). It is quite common these days to hear people use the phrase: ‘follow the carbon and follow the savings’. This simply recognises that carbon is associated with energy and greenhouse gas emissions and any saving in energy or reduction in emissions results in a financial saving. Our analysis of carbon footprint covers what are called the three scopes of carbon accounting: scope 2 are our own emissions, scope 3 the associated emissions from the use of our products and scope 1 the inputs via raw materials to our processes. You will see slightly different definitions of these scopes based solely on energy sourcing, but our definitions represent our supply chain much better.
Approximately half of the carbon within the barley growing element is attributable to the production of the fertiliser, but also the application of fertilisers is clearly a key factor in reducing the environmental impact of farming. Of course carbon is not to be taken in isolation and farmers are keen to embrace biodiversity (e.g. improving wild flowers and animal habitats), water saving and reduction in pesticide use. On farms where we source malting barley we are not alone and other crops will be grown in rotation. Why is this an issue? In many cases at present the farmer is asked to work to different sustainability standards for each crop. Farmers quite rightly have questioned the logic behind this and we agree. There should be a global definition of sustainability. World governments have wrestled with this issue and so far not reached agreement. This is where we saw the benefit of joining in with an international group of companies representing many different crops and other forms of agriculture to agree how a universal practical definition of sustainability could be established. This organisation is called the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI). The group has agreed a set of measures that form a basic level of sustainability and encompassed them in a Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA). This set of questions looks at the factors that contribute to what is called the Triple Bottom Line: People, Profit, Planet, or if you prefer Social, Economic and Environmental issues.
At first it could appear that we have created just another level of red tape and a procedure for farmers to jump through. This would be counter-productive and is definitely not how it will be used. Where farmers currently work to other standards of sustainability such as Red Tractor, LEAF, Higher level stewardship these will to varying degrees already address many if not all the requirements of the SAI FSA. The SAI group has agreed that wherever we are as individual companies on the sustainability journey we will all accept as a definition of sustainability the basic level qualification on the SAI FSA – the bronze level. For some crops and for some companies they may be able to choose stricter targets and require silver or gold status. This allows all supply chains to have a level of agreement on sustainability but still permits commercial freedom to improve performance depending on the robustness of their individual supply chains and the ability for certain areas of the world or certain crops to be more or less easily pushed to higher levels of sustainability.
Through our membership of SAI we have formed close relationships with representatives from Heineken, PepsiCo and Kelloggs and we all wished to introduce the SAI FSA to the UK. How could we do that? Our experience of trying to collate just carbon data from our farmers showed us that there was a significant reluctance of famers to do something that only we were asking for. The experience was shared by even the biggest most influential companies around the SAI table. However, we are aware that our customers have recognised the potential business risk of barley supply and are keen to leapfrog the supply chain and talk to farmers directly about sustainable supply. That creates some suspicion amongst farmers as to why a huge global company would be trying to tell them how to farm.
In Holland Heineken introduced a sustainable forum for farmers through the Skylark programme. Many hundreds of Dutch farmers have readily embraced the concept of belonging to groups of like-minded farmers who will share sustainable best practice and commit to improving year on year by exchanging their experiences. When rolling this out in Poland the Polish farmers just didn’t want to get involved. Heineken were keen to try the UK next and chose Muntons with our excellent sustainability track record to spearhead a similar scheme. An initial launch last year in York met with a muted response, perhaps because it was so different. The most popular presentations then were from 3 farmers who could explain how they had made real savings by being sustainable. Clearly in the minds of many of our farmers then the jury was still out. Since then we have tried to find a way to progress sustainable farm groups. Earlier in the year we teamed up with Paul Rhodes of ‘Sustainable Food Chains’. He was the man behind us getting the significant £0.5m grant to build the silos at Bridlington enabling us to set up a supply chain group to assure better quality malting barley (Muntons Malt Supply Chain Limited). In this instance he managed to procure for us a grant of £20,000 from the Local Enterprise Partnerships in Lincolnshire, North Humberside and surrounding areas. This was to test the water again to see if farmers really would be interested in belonging to sustainable practice groups. Through SAI we had a number of partners who requested to join with us in the launch of this pilot scheme.
We had a very successful launch of the LEP-supported farm supply chain sustainability event on December 10th in York entitled ‘Profiting from sustainability’. Just over 100 attendees heard what they evaluated as an excellent set of presentations. Chaired by Steve Cann (left) and Organised in conjunction with Paul Rhodes (right) of Future Farm Solutions. Paul has experience of setting up sustainable farming groups for the pig sector and is very enthusiastic about helping us gain financial support for our farmer groups.
There was a remarkable agreement between the main presenters from Heineken (Beer), Coca Cola (Sugar Beet), PepsiCo (Walkers crisps / potatoes), Alltech (animal nutrition / cereal production) and the National Farmers Union which could not have been better even if we had all got together to plan that beforehand. There was a highly effective and practical presentation from a Dutch farmer who has been involved in the Skylark farming initiative in Holland. Having farmer talking to farmer was clearly positive judging by the nodding and interest of the farmers in the audience. Heineken chose to feature our data and initiatives in their presentation as an example of how they expect their suppliers to promote sustainable supply.
Our role in initiating this forum has been to explain and encourage our suppliers to work along with us and our customers to improve the supply chain overall without impacting negatively on their productivity. Also to build on the vast experience farmers have but gently shape that into the new sustainable language of our customers. At the end of the day we received feedback from 43 of the delegates that they want to be involved in one or more of the next 3 specific days we are planning to help farmers understand what a sustainability plan is in practical terms and how they can benefit both financially and protect the environment.
A key feature of the day was to stress to the delegates that we are looking to interpret what many of our customers are asking us to do with proving sustainable supply and how we can integrate the systems they already have into one definition of sustainability. That message was very well received. Our examples of products that are sustainable and more environmentally friendly at lower cost than their current recipes were of particular interest to the Sainsbury’s representative. Our invitation to the Tesco supplier day at Heineken in February 2015 was also highlighted to show that we have a knack of bringing these interesting options to the attention of supermarkets when they don’t hear about it directly from our customers who actually supply them.
The first day of this new initiative proved even more successful than we had hoped for. It has resulted in a great deal of commitment from our farm suppliers to get involved, cemented existing relationship with our customers and provided us with new opportunities for collaboration.