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FFA2020 returns to Brussels with an open debate on rewarding food system sustainability
Mark Titterington, responsible for FFA strategy and partnerships

7th Dec 2020

FFA2020 Online

The Forum for the Future of Agriculture returned to Brussels at the end of October with the second of its Online Live events, hosted by the journalist, Jennifer Baker. Participants from across the global FFA network joined the event which was focused on Rewarding sustainability in the food system. In particular, the meeting explored the premise that the future of the food system is likely to rely on two interdependent drivers: the adaptation and reinvention of food system business models; and the development of practices that can generate agri-solutions to climate change which create value for the providers and society at large.

Urgency for action
In his opening address, FFA Chairman, Janez Potočnik, made clear that “Farmers deserve a decent life where they are rewarded for the food they produce and the public goods that they provide”. But he again reiterated the urgency of planning for a sustainable future, citing the recent WWF report which revealed ice sheets melting to their lowest levels since records began alongside an alarming loss of global species and biodiversity since 1970.

The former EU Environment Commissioner repeated his argument that the current market signals do not reflect the true environmental cost of producing food and that there are simply “hard boundaries” to life on this planet. He argued that it is vital that market signals become more aligned with true costs of producing, particularly accounting for the environmental impact, and that innovative actors in the food system, especially growers, should be rewarded for adapting or reinventing their business models to provide public goods, including agri-solutions to climate change.

Adapting and reinventing food system business models
In the panel session on sustainable agri-food business models, which followed Janez Potočnik’s opening address, Organics Europe Brussels Director, Eduardo Cuoco, built on this theme. He framed the discussion from the organic farming perspective, stating that the industrial agriculture model that is currently in place “is generating a vicious circle.” He went on to say that “we need to look at this transition with a holistic approach. To see how policy can support from one side, the agri-food chain to make transition happen and also support the market of those products in the first place” stressing the importance of creating policy that aids in the development of the market. A second fundamental factor is working on consumer behaviour and consumer education and “why it is important that they choose sustainability instead of cheap prices.” Mr. Cuoco believes that retailers can play an important role in this transition in explaining “how the price of a product is built” emphasising that it is not an easy issue. He stressed that food prices are too cheap and when consumers save money with prices, they pay the price elsewhere, pointing to the environmental impacts that our current food system has inflicted on the world.

In a similar vein, Ben O’Brien, Europe Director of Beef+Lamb New Zealand argued that science and technology, and the pace of its development, will always be the determining factor in the reinvention or adaption of business models. He made clear that “change can only happen as fast as is technically possible” and that even then, “… the rate at which people will change their behaviours is dependent upon their incentive to change”. It is clear from ongoing discussion around this point, that where markets fail to provide the incentive to change, public intervention is needed both from a financial compensation as well as regulatory perspective.

Rabobank’s Global Head of Sustainability, Bas Ruiter, built on this, arguing that it will be a collective challenge, involving a coalition of all actors, to drive the change necessary to produce a more resilient and sustainable food system. He stressed that it cannot be the responsibility of one or even a few actors, and that there is an alignment on the need to reflect ‘true pricing’ (the real cost of the goods and services produced) in the price we pay for food. It was clear, for Mr. Ruiter, that this is not happening and, consequently, consumers make different choices. In this respect, he felt that financial institutions, like Rabobank can play a substantive role, in supporting the adaptation or reinvention of food system business models, by linking the price of finance or credit to the sustainability performance of their clients.

Echoing the comments of Mr. Ruiter, delegates to the conference agreed that it was not one food chain actor more than another that should pay for the achievement of greater sustainability in the food system- 65% believed that it was a shared responsibility between the public and private sector and consumers.

FFA2020 Online question 2

Creating shared value from agri-solutions to climate change
The second panel session took a deeper dive into the extent to which agri-solutions to climate change could emerge and how they could create and share additional value, particularly with growers. These solutions range from so-called carbon farming to regenerative and precision agriculture whilst further down the food chain concern improvements in processing, transportation, storage and shelf life.

Responding to the question of how to achieve this, Ulrike Sapiro, Senior Director for Water, Sustainability and Stewardship at The Coca-Cola Company, said, “There isn’t a silver bullet, there will be a number of policy, financial and risk management instruments that will have to play a role and for a very solid policy you need to really assess what are the problems you want to solve and what are the options available”. Nevertheless, she made clear that she believes private sector actors, like The Coca-Cola Company, can and are playing a leading role in embedding sustainability into their supply chains and climate policy. She did say, however, that it will be important to align on and be clear with farmers and policy-makers what sustainability and climate change solutions look like, and – importantly – how they are rewarded.

Echoing the theme of rewarding growers properly for what they do, Marjon Krol, Market and Food Chain Manager at ZLTO, said that whilst, “… many farmers are aware of the needs from society, as long as they are paid only to produce affordable food they [will] lack the resources to invest in the transition”. She provided two examples where a coalition of actors are trying to address this at a local level in the Netherlands.

The first concerns the Biodiversity Monitor, which requires dairy farmers to take action and quantify their contribution to biodiversity enhancements. Supported by local water companies, financial institutions, like Rabobank, NGOs, like WWF, and the regional government, these farmers are rewarded in the form of a price premium on the milk price, reduced land rent, and lower interest rates on credit. The second example concerns carbon farming where an initiative has started with a small number growers who adopt practices designed to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They are rewarded with €100 for each tonne of carbon sequestered which is paid for my companies and organisations who want to offset their own unavoidable carbon emissions. Although these examples provide a good indication of what is possible, Ms. Krol was clear that ultimately farmers, “… will not find it easy to transform their business models, if they cannot pay for it”.

And in this respect, Tassos Haniotis, Director of Strategy and Policy Analysis at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Agriculture, argued that the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy will have to play a role in supporting growers in adopting practical measures that really can drive sustainability. For Mr. Haniotis, this involves a particular focus on soil health, where improvements in this area can unlock adjacent benefits in terms of water and biodiversity, as well as the productive capacity of the farm. Although Mr. Haniotis agreed with the urgency of the climate crisis, he also argued that we need to recognise the economic situation we are in, with respect to COVID-19. With the focus on food affordability likely to increase, adjustments to these price signals need to be handled carefully. In this respect, he suggested a two-step approach working to help consumers to understand how their food is produced, and at what cost, to influence purchasing decisions, alongside technology adoption and practice changes that can improve the cost and sustainability of production.

John Gilliland, OBE, Director of Agriculture and Sustainability at Devenish Nutrition, built on this and argued that, in his view the combination of technology and robust monitoring and measurement, was key to understanding and demonstrating how value can be created by taking action to improve farm resilience and sustainability and contributing solutions to climate change. He stressed the importance of striking a balance when running a farm. Economics cannot be prioritised over sustainability and health in the long run as it will impact the quality of the nutrients in the soil and the nutrients of the product. He emphasised the importance of healthy soil for farms trying to reach their own net zero targets and stressed the importance of harmonising the relationship between livestock and the land. One of the most effective practices that he mentioned was introducing Silvopasture, putting trees and animals together in the same area. While seeing no reduction in livestock performance, this allowed the soil trafficability window to increase by seventeen weeks allowing for a significant boost in productivity. Mr. Gilliland dispelled the notion that ruminant agriculture is harmful stating “It is a myth that if you get rid of ruminant agriculture you sort out all the problems, you don’t.” He noted that ruminants play a key role in the inoculation of soil. It is evident from Mr. Gilliland’s success that the relationship between livestock and soil is paramount to the overall quality and output of a farm. The benefit of this alignment between food and environmental sustainability, which Mr. Gilliland alluded to, was borne out by the participants, with nearly 90% of them agreeing that growers should farm for biodiversity as well as food.

FFA2020 Online question 4

Surfacing the challenges but also some solutions
It was clear from this latest FFA2020 Online Live! event that there is an ever-increasing consensus that the price signals in the agri-food system must reflect the true cost to the environment and that growers must be rewarded for the sustainability services they provide. Quite simply, nobody will find the incentive to adapt and reinvent business models, at scale, unless the value is rewarded. As usual in these discussions, there is a lot of alignment on the challenge, and even at a high level on how all actors can work together to solve them. But the discussion at this event also focused on many practical steps that are beginning to be taken. These may still be ‘green shoots’ or ‘lighthouse’ examples but they provide some confidence that different stakeholders may be coming together to reward greater resilience and sustainability in the food system. The remaining question, as always, is the extent of the scale and pace that can be achieved in implementation.

Mark Titterington,
responsible for FFA strategy and partnerships

FFA Online Live Event 2: Opening Remarks
Janez Potočnik, Chair FFA2020, Chairman RISE Foundation

27th Oct 2020

Janez opening

Prefer to watch the live presentation?
Click here to watch all the sessions from FFA2020 Regional Online Live on video.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today. Thank you also to our speakers, both in the studio, and around Europe. Once again, we are not able to meet in person as we had hoped to do. With corona cases once again on the rise, I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.

However, we cannot let such moments of acute crisis overwhelm us. Indeed, we must use them to make the changes in the world due to crisis with deeper roots – a chronic crisis of globalisation and economic transformation - feeding climate change and income inequality and also leading to potential massive unemployment. Our shared history is rich and full of critical turning points such as these. As we continue to grasp with the impact of this pandemic, we cannot allow our focus to only be on tomorrow – we must plan for a sustainable future. The urgency of the moment cannot be understated. Amidst the stories of elections and new measures, others were unfolding: September of this year was the warmest month on record worldwide , the Arctic sea ice is melting to the levels never seen before, and – according to a new study done by FFA partner the World Wildlife Fund - we have lost 68% of all global vertebrates. We are clearly on an unsustainable course and we must be guided by a new compass.

Today we are supposed to talk about rewarding sustainability in the food system. Let me put it in perspective and start with the question, what is driving our efforts in organising FFA debates? Good life for farmers in a sustainable farming eco-system, providing access to a healthy food. The economic and food systems we have developed, often with good intentions, are not sustainable, and the change is unavoidable. Farmers deserve a decent life, where they are rewarded by the market for what they produce, not by automatic subsidies. They also deserve our support in the transition to a sustainable food system – protecting soil, biodiversity, and the climate; these are all changes in their interest. But … also consumers deserve decent life, an income to raise a family, as well as good, nutritious food at reasonable prices. We are all participants in the marketplace now, and the signals that it sends are mostly driven by price. However, these signals do not represent us fully.

We live in an age of poverty and wealth inequality, all pointing to an undervaluation and lack of rewards for labour. In principle, we agree that consumers and producers should pay the full costs linked to what they buy. However, many around the world cannot even afford basic services like decent food, or access to homes and mobility. Since income and wealth distribution is so unbalanced, we need social and labour policies that make the basics of life affordable. We need to keep people warm, safe, and with full bellies. However, our future wellbeing absolutely dependents on the natural environment and on the way we manage natural resources. Too many still do not understand that any future economy is totally dependent on accepting that there are hard boundaries to continued life on this planet. Even worse, many more do understand this, but refuse to act accordingly. Right now, there is no real value for our natural capital; climate change, biodiversity loss, ongoing emissions, and the destruction of the rainforest show that we do not value nature at all. Very often, it makes more economic sense to destroy the planet – it leads to better share prices and higher profits.

It will not be easy, but we must reconcile our short and long-term interests. In many cases, doing so will help resolve many current, very concrete, short term interests. In democracies we rule and govern together through the elected representatives we prefer. Imperfect though it is, this is the voice of the people – and if they do not agree with the decision made, they will raise their voice in the streets and vote us out.

Nature, on the other hand, has no voice and its life and survival depends on the existing level of human understanding and responsibility. When nature disagrees with our behaviour it cannot raise the voice. It protests by dying out and by disappearing from the planet. And yes, the silent voice of nature has been in the recent decades very loud and very clear … but … we still pretend not to hear the silent spring. Right now we need much more effective and efficient policies that address the core drivers of our problems; inequality, biodiversity loss, climate change. There is no longer room for separate policies on the economy, society, and the environment. We can no longer afford inconsistency or a lack of science-based policy. We have to introduce responsible governance while avoiding hypocrisy. Which leads us again to the importance of market signals.

We cannot and should no longer avoid the fact that the price signals currently do not value the climate, our soil and water, or our biodiversity. Neither is there a full accounting for consumer-facing issues such as obesity and other diet-related illnesses. Another major challenge is related to rebalancing price in our food system and rewards along the food chain. Many actors, including farmers, know that the system they are part of is unsustainable. But they are trapped by existing prices, squeezed margins, and in many cases little control over the market they contribute to. While farm incomes have risen significantly over the last ten years, the family farm income is still only just over 15,000 euro per year . How are they supposed to buy new equipment that saves fuel, time, and reduces emissions? Where does the money come from to buy new filters for livestock sheds? How does it come that a local butcher pays only bit extra for a meat from animals with a high quality of life?

For many years, policy makers have tried to change behaviour through the Common Agricultural Policy and increased regulation. As we can see from the state of our environment, these efforts – though worthy – have not delivered the systemic changes needed. The market signals in the food chain are broken and must be fixed.

Furthermore, we must investigate and develop food system markets for biodiversity protection as well as the climate. While we are slowly creating private markets for carbon storage, for example through tree planting as carbon offsets, these are still minute in comparison to the global challenge we face. In the face of the global wave of forest fires from California to the Amazon to Australia, they are not nearly sufficient.

When it comes to respecting value and the influence of the food system to protect the earth’s wildlife, we are functionally nowhere. Despite a limited number of private initiatives, we have no unified system that tells us how to translate the extraordinary value of our wildlife into a system that can rewards those that help them prosper beyond nature subsidies.

Dear friends, while addressing the issue of rewarding sustainability in the food sector we have to be clear that it is impossible to solve the problems linked to agriculture and food system in isolation. Few quick points worth mentioning:

First: We have to simultaneously address social questions linked to poverty and fairness. We cannot simply march out and demand higher prices from consumers. Transitions should be always managed carefully with most vulnerable in mind. Right now, hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs, taking salary cuts, and even more are facing real insecurity. We cannot ask of them to pay more without making them more secure and well-paid first. This means tackling the gross levels of inequality that have ballooned around the world and also in Europe.

Second, the financial sector should actively contribute to the transition. Risks in finance institutions cannot be any more defined as the short-term rate of return on the money invested, but rather in the context of real risks we face as a society where finance plays an outsized role. Looking beyond the short-term interests is essential not only for the transition of the food system, but also for the stability and survival of the finance sector itself.

Third, all public money should follow public interests, aligned with the needs of the transition following the European Green Deal vision. The opportunity is unique. With the next financial perspective and recovery package we have on the table for the next few years almost doubled regular EU budget and if we act wisely lots can be done. EGD and post-recovery should be seen as two sides of the same coin. And finally, I’m also aware that Europe is not an isolated island and that the solutions to all the listed question to an important level depend on how we will be able to address the sustainability of food system at the global level, manage the trade flows and create level playing field. Engaging in global partnerships and finding solutions on the globalised markets, should thus be an important part of the future European efforts.

Dear friends, incentives sent to markets, are essential. We cannot send producers and consumers with market signals in one direction and then use the regulation and additional public money to limit the damage done by the wrong market signals. This just leads to a lot of confusion, lobbying and also potentially to conflicts and bad will.

It is essential that signals sent to market players – producers and consumers, farmers and their customers – are aligned with public interests … like providing affordable healthy food, respecting planetary boundaries, using natural resources in a responsible way … and not working against, which is currently many times still the case. Policy makers should create conditions for them to thrive and to jointly shape an economy, which will, by following their private interests, protect also the public ones. This is essential role and responsibility public sector, policy makers and politicians, should play. And while engaging in our economic activities, we should always remain caring members of our society.

Fixing the market signals in the food system is extraordinarily hard and may require some changes which would not be easy to accept. We might have to pay more, consume less, be more conscious of our waste, and become more active citizens. These are not easy challenges, but we are running out of time. If we do not face up to it and fix our broken compass, then the consequences will be unbearable. Not only for the future generations, but already also for us. The current crisis provides us with a moment of fragility enlightenment in which we can make a real change … and we must make it.

I hope today’s discussions will inspire you to ask questions, and consider your own role - as a company, a government, or even as an individual. We all win or lose together. It is not any more about if and what needs to be done, but rather about how we will do it. I wish you a productive conference and thank you for listening.

Janez Potočnik
Chair FFA2020,
Chairman RISE Foundation

Doing food business in the climate crisis age
Robert de Graeff, Senior Policy Advisor, European Landowners’ Organization

15th Oct 2020

Dandelion in stubblee

September 2020 was the hottest month ever recorded in a year that looks likely to rank among the top five warmest. Up in the Arctic, the sea ice is at the second lowest level ever seen and a chunk of ice of almost 114 square kilometers – twice the island of Manhattan – has broken off to disappear into the rising sea levels. Droughts, flooding, and extreme weather events are continually on the and show no signs of abating. For the food chain, the consequences have already been bad and are set to become much worse. Shifting weather patterns impact harvests, desertification pushes vulnerable populations into growing megacities ill-equipped to deal with the influx, and hunger is on the rise in the developing world.

There is no question as to ‘whether’ business models along the food chain will change and adapt in order to cope with the shifting reality. Should they not, the new climate reality will force them to, or they will simply cease to exist. Adapting businesses to the age of climate breakdown is an urgent challenge, not just for those who make their living in the food system, but even more for literally everyone on the planet – all are dependent on a plentiful supply of safe, nutritious food.

When discussing the issue of new business models in the age of climate breakdown, it is important to make three related points; the first is that the majority of ‘new’ models will not be wholly new – by necessity most will be adaptations of what already exists, especially where farming is concerned. Even if radical political, social, and economic changes take place, soils will take time to regenerate, harvests come in seasons, and we are still short a whole generation of young farmers. While there is always a temptation to look at startups, disruptors, and wholly new (digital) enterprises, the reality of the food chain is a basic interaction between labour, machinery, soil, weather, and time. Until and unless wholly new methods of food production are devised, farms (in one way or another) will be with us for the foreseeable future. There will be no tabula rasa from which to start anew.

Furthermore, we cannot assume that most actors in the food chain – farmer workers, supermarket managers, supply chain buyers etc. – have the education or knowledge necessary to reform the current business structures in which they operate. Certainly, there has been a marked increase in the professionalization of farming, but simply assuming that most actors are aware of the latest business or sustainability trends would be unreasonable; one should not expect a land manager to turn into an pollination expert or professional water quality monitor. Any serious, systemic change to businesses in the food system needs to involve a combination of continued education as well as simple, clear messages that can be implemented and understood by all levels.

The second is that the current state of the food system has hard brakes built in that – unless deep reforms are made and resources put in place – will not be easy to overcome. The first is the mismatch between financial realities of the food chain; many producers even in Europe earn below non-farm average incomes and the demand for investment and new production methods. While some of new land management techniques, digital applications, and other tools show promise when it comes to adaptation and reducing Co2 emissions in the sector, all these have to be paid for.

For most farmers, this is not realistic even if they are fully committed to action. Even though average farm incomes have risen in the last decade, they are not in a position to pay for the deep transitions that are often required, ranging from machinery to buildings to expansion or setting up short supply chains. If prices do not rise dramatically, either private finance will need to step in (but it will expect returns), or the state should take the kind of action not seen since the end of the Second World War when famine in Europe was barely averted.

The third is that the food system cannot “take a break” and reform itself. People will need to eat today and tomorrow, and – as described above – the food system does not have the financial resources to pause itself. Repairs to the airplane will have to occur while it is in the air. The brief spike in Covid-19 related empty shelves across Europe, mainly due to logistics issues and closed borders rather than a lack of production, shows what even brief disruptions to a fragile system can do. Should the pace of climate change and the lack of systemic global action make such disruptions systemic, it is difficult to envision how much change the system will be able to absorb while fulfilling its basic, uninterruptable, mission of keeping people fed.

Despite these obstacles; reforming existing businesses, the lack of financial resources and investment, and the need to make changes without halting – there are encouraging signs that demonstrate how food chain businesses can reform, how new ones can be created.

If we are to be serious about combatting climate change, then markets for carbon sequestration – whether in the soil or through forestry – should arise to fill this need. We are already seeing the first signs in the world of carbon offsetting in the private market where corporations and individuals pay for tree planting and soil management. Since the advent of the covid-19 crisis we have, perhaps by force, seen an increased interest in local food and short supply chains. It is to be hoped that land managers and local food businesses can permanently capture some of this renewed interest, as well as play into increased local demand due to homeworking. However, it is probably not reasonable to maintain the existing consumer offer in the supermarket while switching to a fully local supply chain; greater efficiencies and better distribution of rewards in global markets will certainly need to feature as part of the solution.

Correctly, there is now a significant focus on the circular economy. Here too, the food system cannot just do better (food waste remains a significant problem) but reshape and rethink its business models to reduce its input recycling and use which will lower overall production costs. Establishing a secondary market for “waste” such as manure, leaves and stems, leftovers, and other byproducts of the primary production cycle could help reform the food system itself. Better care of local and international biodiversity will assist the food system as well as provide possible earning models all along the food chain – there is a widely available body of knowledge that shows the additional beneficial effects of well-functioning ecosystems; from clean water to pollinators and beetle banks.

However, we cannot expect such markets to develop of their own accord in the time we have set for ourselves to halt global warming. Currently, the development of such private markets is too small and haphazard if we are to keep below 1.5 degrees global warming. State influence, whether through European instruments such as the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Common Agricultural Policy, or through market-making powers like cap-and-trade or the new criteria being developed under the Sustainable Finance Agenda will be vital in creating the top-level demands that can transform the food system.

Reshaping this complex, multifaceted, and financially strained system will only be possible through significant public and private investment, but that will only take place at the scale required when we move beyond voluntary initiatives and into both regulatory demands and efficient, well-structured market rewards and public subsidies. It will also require an active and much more aware citizenry that appreciates some of the challenges discussed in order to create the political will necessary that will allow systemic change for the better to take place.

Robert de Graeff
Senior Policy Advisor
European Landowners' Organization

Building resilient food systems
Robert de Graeff, Senior Policy Advisor, European Landowners’ Organization

20th Jul 2020

Dandelion growing in dry earth image

There has rarely been a more appropriate time to discuss the need for resilience and redundancies in global and European food systems, many of which were badly affected not just by the effects of Covid-19 itself, but possibly more by necessary state responses. Border blockages, reductions in farm worker movements at critical harvest times, closures of prime and specialty buyers like restaurants and hotels; these were only some of the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis for the farm sector. Further up the chain, different problems took hold. Together, these have not just exposed existing weaknesses, but sometimes revealed wholly new issues that had to be dealt with rapidly in order to maintain food security.

As the wider economy is currently showing, it is important to note that the aftermath of crises often festers in systems; the mere act of (physical) recovery does not mean the system itself has healed or improved. With unemployment numbers spiking around the world, the impact of Covid-19 purely in terms of labour and purchasing power could remain and undermine livelihoods and gains in development for years to come, unless swift action is taken.

It is important to note that while the impact of the pandemic is the main topic of conversation, the critical but slow-burning challenges of climate change and biodiversity declines have not yet been substantially answered by modern society or the food system. In the first case, C02 numbers continue to rise and the Arctic Circle sees the highest temperatures in recorded history; in the second, pollinator numbers continue to decline, as does nature overall at an unprecedented rate. Not all of this can be laid at the feet of the food system, but as some of the primary guardians of the world’s lands and waters, it must surely take its share of the responsibility.

If we are to emerge not just as-before, but stronger and better-prepared for the next (systemic) shock, we must urgently build far greater resilience into our agricultural systems. This means creating a system that favours redundancies, local skills and knowledge, as well as a durable global architectures of trade and connectivity. Overall, a combination of local and global resilience will deliver greater preparedness when the next crisis hits. In an ideal world, we would align our economic and food systems in a durable and sustainable manner that avoids systemic crises in the first place. However, completing that transition is probably still decades off. This means that policy makers and actors along the food system must not just begin to deal seriously with the issue of resilience and make it part of their daily practice. We cannot afford to merely respond after the fact.

To shape and maintain resilient agricultural systems is not just to plan for natural and man-made disasters, but even more importantly to act preventatively. By protecting, improving and restoring not just farm landscapes but also ecosystems and the climate. resilient systems can be built that not just absorb shocks but reduce the frequency with which these occur.

The FAO defines three major categories of risk that can be mitigated or avoided through proper resilience; natural and climate-based risk, crises in the food chain such as animal disease and food-borne pathogens, and protracted crises such as hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Clearly, these risks are also correlated; an outbreak of one will exacerbate and reinforce the others. Unfortunately, though understandably, policy makers and stakeholders often give greater thought to preparedness and swift action following an immediate and unpreventable crisis such as a freak flood or pest outbreak – it is immediate and can be grasped by everyone, including voters. In contrast, the other two categories (climate risk and protracted crises) are much better dealt with before they become problematic in the first place, but risk the ‘boy who cried wolf’ problem of being perceived as part of daily experience.

The first step to creating a more resilient food system is to create better early-warning and monitoring systems that command the attention of the relevant actors. In the case of the Covid outbreak, Bill Gates already warned the global community that “we’re not ready” for a pandemic in 2015. It is important to note that investment in early action could come with minor-to-significant upfront and maintenance costs, but that these pay back easily when compared to the human and financial cost of a full-blown outbreak or crisis. In terms of the food system, this means in-depth investment in weather analysis and prediction systems, detection and elimination of pests and diseases that threaten crops, and possibly the creation of strategic reserves not just of non-perishable seeds and food but also necessary inputs such as fertilizer, plant protection, and energy sources needed to fuel farms and transport.

Second comes the reduction of harm done by crises that do occur. Here, we can consider diversification of farm enterprises so that they are not dependent on monocultures or bound into production systems that cannot deal with rapidly changing circumstances. Further up the food chain, consideration should be given to a wider spread of sourcing and careful monitoring of employee health within privacy limits. Furthermore, we repeated testing of existing crisis systems should take place in order to ensure that they remain fit for purpose.

Third and last, though by no means least, should be the shaping of resilience by actual disaster preparedness. Emergency food storage, redundancies in power and IT systems, well-trained emergency responders and global networks that can be activated swiftly are all necessary parts of a resilient food system. However, while these are often seen as the first and only steps needed to be taken by governments and business, more attention and investment in prevention rather than curing should pay off especially where protracted crises are concerned. Building resilient agriculture systems in developing countries, for example, is better and does more at the systemic level than flying in food aid.

Clearly, different parts of the global system are more or less resilient; some countries with advanced economies and medical systems, dependable food supplies and capital reserves, swift action and preparedness are better borne. However, the global nature of supply chains and the interconnectedness of human societies and ecosystems means that there is no longer such a thing as ‘pulling up the drawbridge’. The fate of one society will, in the end, deeply affect the fate of all others.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals remain one of the primary goals when it comes to creating not just resilient food systems, but resilient societies that could afford the citizens and consumers of the world a chance to avert a full-blown climate crisis and resolve protracted crises like poverty and malnutrition. Outbreaks, storms, and other incidental outbreaks will remain with us due to the nature of life on this planet, but lifting global welfare and urgently coming to grips with our rising temperatures will create greater food system resilience than any emergency storage facility.

Robert de Graeff
Senior Policy Advisor
European Landowners' Organization

Regenerative Agriculture: is this what sustainable agriculture is about?
Jabier Ruiz, WWF-European Policy Office

4th Jul 2020

Janez opening
Photo by sippakorn yamkasikorn on Unsplash

Regenerative agriculture is one among a myriad of terms we nowadays hear in relation to sustainable agriculture. “Regenerative” is an attractive and positive adjective in itself, so it can hardly be criticised, particularly when compared to its rough opposite “extractive agriculture”. But there are many other words in the “agri-dictionary” that we also use frequently nowadays: agroecology, conservation agriculture, ecological intensification… How does “regenerative agriculture” rank against those?

To help us in providing an answer, just a few days ago, the European office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released the timely report Approaches to Sustainable Agriculture, where they have carefully assessed what is behind the complex terminology in the field. As the authors point out, the different approaches to sustainable agriculture share a number of important commonalities and challenges, but it is also important to note that their diversity is a strength in itself.

As the report presents, regenerative agriculture is a term coined back in the 1980s in the USA and it is centered on the concept of soil health, aiming to restore its organic matter content and ecological functionality, boost its productivity and increase its resilience. Regenerative agriculture is identified by the Drawdown project as one key solution to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and lock it in the soils, and is also one of the ten critical transitions identified by the FOLU to transform food and land use globally.

Regenerative agriculture embraces a number of farming practices, summarised in the report:

1. Minimum or no tillage, to enhance soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention, and carbon sequestration;

2. Boosting soil fertility biologically by closing nutrient loops through the application of cover crops, crop rotations, perennial crops, compost and animal manure - minimal or no use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and no external nutrients (in-farm fertility);

3. Building biological ecosystem diversity, through composting, intercropping, multi-species cover crops, agroforestry, silvopasture, and borders planted for bees and other beneficial insects;

4. Well-managed grazing practices (e.g. rotational grazing) to stimulate plant growth, increased organic matter inputs, pasture and grazing land productivity, soil fertility, insect and plant biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration.

This approach to agriculture is not exempt from certain challenges related to its implementation. For instance, adopting no tillage may in the short term result in increased weed-pressure or difficulties for de-compacting heavy soils, the latter of which can cause lower water infiltration and hinder plant and root growth. However, in the longer term, and through maintaining soil cover, these impacts may be overcome.

While they share much common ground, regenerative agriculture can be considered broader than conservation agriculture. One of the most relevant differences is that regenerative agriculture can be applied to animal farming and not just to crop agriculture. Actually, it frequently involves the mixing of crops and livestock, to further boost soil quality and fertility. In many of their aspects, regenerative agriculture initiatives also seem to be inspired by other agroecological approaches to sustainable farming, described in length in the the IUCN report.

Regenerative agriculture has gained further attention in relation to “carbon farming”, due to its potential to sequester CO2 when degraded agricultural soils are progressively restored. Soil scientists have provided us with some encouraging estimates of the climate mitigation potential of increasing organic carbon in cropland soils, although it is far from the expectations raised by the 4 per 1000 initiative. The huge advantage of regenerative agriculture when compared to other strategies to reduce agricultural GHG emissions is that, irrespective of its climate impact, it will be beneficial for one of the main assets of the farm: the health, fertility and productivity of its soils.

Jabier Ruiz
WWF-European Policy Office

The views expressed above are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by the FFA or its partners.

FFA2020 returns in a new format and with focus on building a more resilient and sustainable food and farming system
30th Jun 2020

Prefer to watch the live presentation?
Click here to watch all the sessions from FFA2020 Regional Online Live on video.

The Forum for the Future of Agriculture returned on June 15th in a new format, which linked more than 700 stakeholders in Berlin, Brussels and beyond, to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the European food system and to explore the necessary response. This timing of the meeting, and discussion of this topic, could hardly have been more timely, coming as it did on the back of the recently published EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies and just a few weeks before Germany assumes the Presidency of the European Council.

In his opening remarks to the FFA Regional Online Live meeting, the Chairman Janez Potočnik, said that whilst everything has changed since the onset of the crisis it could also be argued that nothing has changed. In this respect, Mr. Potočnik argued that the crisis had served to highlight the fragility of the world generally and for the food and agriculture system in particular. Continuing with this theme, the former EU Environment Commissioner said this would, perhaps, help contribute to a better understanding of the world and enable Europe at least to build on the momentum now being generated by the recently published strategies, alongside the European Recovery Plan.

Janez opening

For Mr. Potočnik, he clearly believes that there is an opportunity which must be taken to build a more resilient food and agriculture system based on the principles of the circular economy. He argued, passionately, that the system has to stop socialising the cost of its externalities, which impact on public health as well as the environment, and in particular start to put a value on the natural and human capital upon which it’s long term sustainability depends. Recognising that this does not come for free, and could well translate into higher food prices, he argued that the EU and Member States must draw on the wide range of social and economic levers at their disposal to ensure a just transition for all, particularly the most vulnerable.

“We cannot leave the next generation with all the debts. Going back to the old ways that we knew were broken before would be irresponsible: it is the worst thing we could to ourselves and future generations.” Janez Potočnik

Joining Janez Potočnik in the Brussels studio was Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, recently appointed Deputy Head of Cabinet for EU Commissioner Wojciechowski. Ms. Geslain-Lanéelle took the opportunity to highlight and praise the “extraordinary” responsiveness of the EU’s food system, and the people working in it, during the crisis. She argued that this had kept food on “everyone’s plate” and had once again highlighted what an important asset and success story the agri-food sector is for Europe. But like other contributors throughout the meeting, she also argued that we have once again become aware of the vulnerabilities in the system, the importance of secure and sustainable access to food for all, and the need to preserve it. And like the former EU Environment Commissioner, Ms. Geslain-Lanéelle called on all stakeholders to seize the moment to transform the food system in line with circular economy principles and in ways which enables agriculture to contribute to the decarbonisation of Europe’s economy. According to her, the Farm to Fork Strategy represents “a brand new approach which looks not just at food security and food safety [but] is about building more efficient and sustainable food systems”.

“Food security is a European strategic asset, a European success. It is showing that the diversity of our food system is an asset. We have long food supply chains, but also short ones. We need a combination to face any situation”. Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle

With more than 700 stakeholders joining the meeting in Brussels, Berlin, and across Europe and beyond, there was a wealth of expertise and experience, to draw on in the debate. Perhaps not surprisingly, over 40% of stakeholders polled during the event appeared to agree with the interventions of Janez Potočnik and Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, in calling for the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis to be as green as possible. By a similar number, participants felt that the incoming German Presidency of the EU Council should prioritise taking forward the Farm to Fork Strategy in helping to bring this about in Europe’s food system.

Janez opening

In the Berlin studio, moderator Heike Zeller was joined by a number of guests from German politics, the food industry and the NGO, BÖLW. For his part, Dr. Gero Hocker, the Agriculture Spokesperson for the Liberal Group in the Bundestag, echoed the comments of Ms. Geslain-Lanéelle, in highlighting the vital role played by all those in the agri-food industry during the crisis. He also welcomed and agreed with the recognition by the German government of the agriculture sector as “system relevant”. Dr. Hocker also made clear that high standards are necessary but must be consistently applied across Europe and that in driving toward a more resilient food and agriculture sector, the regulatory and bureaucratic burden, and associated costs, could not and should not fall entirely on the farmer.

In this respect, the Liberal Group’s Agriculture Speaker argued that there was a clear gap between people who say that they are prepared to pay more, for more sustainably produced food, than those that actually do so – an argument that was aligned with the one made by Janez Potočnik about the sharing of value and responsibility across the food chain.

This was also reinforced by Dr. Julia Köhn, Chief Executive and Founder of PIELERS and Chairwoman of the German Agri-Food Society. Dr. Köhn has long argued for greater price transparency to help consumers understand the true cost of the food they pay for and where the money goes. For Dr. Köhn, she sees a growing movement that harnesses the power of technology and innovation to develop a supply chain which reveals and internalises all of the financial, human and natural costs, of the agri-food economy. For her, this has to also be an important part of the transition.

“In Europe, nobody died from hunger or empty supermarkets. This gives us the perfect opportunity to fix our food systems, as the fundamentals of of food security are ensured”.
Dr. Julia Köhn

For Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein, Chairman of BÖLW (Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft), the need to drive this transition and the publication of the EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies have come at exactly the right time, given the disturbances caused by the COVID-19 crisis. He strongly argued that what is at stake is nothing less that our collective ability to produce food in the future and to ensure that, we need to follow the path set out in these strategies. In particular, Prinz zu Löwenstein argued that there are three key points to keep in mind. First, that farmers must be paid or rewarded for the public goods they provide; second, that we need change our dietary and consumption patterns if we want a more sustainable system; and, third, that we must not use policies and public funds to conceal or avoid the necessary changes that need to be made in the food system. In addition, he also argued that in supporting growers to reach ever higher standards, we must also ensure that there is a level and competitive playing field with other non-EU countries, and EU trade policy and agreements must ensure this.

“In Europe, our food system is quite resilient but in comparison with the rest of the world it is vulnerable. Even minor disturbances can create problems in the chain, and catastrophes for millions”. Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein

Janez opening

Building on this point, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle argued that “… it is not just about regulating and making good deals with our partners, but also finding a way to ensure that our high level of standards and production methods in Europe is better recognized”. She said that this is why the Farm to Fork strategy is proposing to develop a Sustainable food labelling scheme, “to help consumers [recognize] the efforts made in the food chain to produce sustainable food”.

In drawing the event to a close, FFA Chairman, Janez Potočnik, returned to his earlier theme of ensuring that natural and human capital, as well as finance, is properly accounted for throughout the food system, and doing so would be a critical success factor in making the necessary transitions. This seemed to resonate with many of the participants who joined the meeting with strong support in the online polling for improving soil health, farmland biodiversity, and ecosystem services, as well as the role growers can play in tackling climate change, for example, through new business models such as carbon farming. Mr. Potočnik concluded by saying that COVID-19 shows how natural and climatic events can disrupt our lives and that these will increase. His clear message was that there is a window of opportunity to prepare and that it must be seized.

FFA2020 will continue to explore the impact of COVID-19 on the food system and build on the ideas and thinking shared by our panel guests and participants in the Regional Online Live event over the coming months.

A greener, more local Europe?
The FFA audience responds during the Regional Live Events

22nd Jun 2020

During the FFA Regional Online Live event broadcast on June 15 (full videos available here), we asked the 500+ FFA audience of farmers, policy makers, scientists, business and many more about what they believe the policy priorities for Europe and the German Presidency should be as we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown.

The lockdown itself has shown significant frailties in the European and international food systems, especially where it concerns the cross-border movement of farm workers and produce. During the lockdown, many of these systems experienced either significant delays or were completely blocked. As the results below show, this has both strengthened the need for cross-border trade security, but an even greater stated need for local food security. However, there is no doubt that the overarching concern of the FFA audience remains that the recovery is used to create urgency around Europe’s green agenda.


This urgency on the side of the public is seemingly matched by the European policy agenda, which now has a large number of policy items related to the food system and land management on its plat, including the Farm to Fork Strategy, the Biodiversity Strategy, finalizing the Common Agricultural Policy and passing an agreed-on European budget. However, as the polling below shows, the most important item for those attending the FFA Live Event was the Farm to Fork Strategy. Given that each Presidency has limited time and political capital to expend on different files, the primacy given to the package designed to not just adapt agriculture, but also the large food chain, is significant.


The focus on climate change and a green recovery is seen again in the 3rd question, where the audience focused on climate and soil measures as the most important for the EU recovery. While all these answer are interrelated and tackling one will have positive (side) effects on the others, it is clear that the climate emergency remains at the forefront of public concern, soil is now clearly moving up the policy agenda.


Clearly, the solution envisaged by a majority of the FFA Live Event audience is to create a new business model based on ecosystem services as part of the answer to the climate, soil, and biodiversity crises. However, moving such a model into the practical reality of farm life is as yet not an achievable reality, despite some very positive results from pilots and limited programs around Europe.


Taken together, we can see that the FFA audience has a disposition towards green solutions that help farmers and ecosystems alike, but also that it values the importance of the price signal, as was reflected in the discussion during the Live Event. Greater support from the government or the EU does not seem to be a priority, and neither do international trade ties in the face of greater support for more local and regional production.

While there are not enough results to claim definitive answers to these complex problems, there appears to be an ‘inward turn’ for European politics, one more focused on going green at home with a preference for local solutions. The coming months will show whether or not such desires are matched by the EU and the German Presidency as the recovery takes concrete shape. Whatever the outcome will be, however, it is clear that there is a stated desire in Europe for real changes to the operation of the food system – it is whether or not the political will is present to substantiate these changes that will need to be seen.

To watch all videos of the FFA Regional Online Live click here
To read the opening speech from Janez Potočnik click here
FFA Online Live Event: Opening Remarks
Janez Potočnik, Chair FFA2020, Chairman RISE Foundation

15th Jun 2020

Janez opening

Prefer to watch the live presentation?
Click here to watch all the sessions from FFA2020 Regional Online Live on video.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today. Strange days, to put it mildly.

And Catherine, thank you for joining me here in Brussels studio.

As many of you know, we were not able to meet with you in Brussels at the end of March as we had planned. For obvious reasons of safety and together with the FFA strategic partners, we were forced to cancel that event. However, life goes on, and we are excited to see, or at least feel, so many of you here today.

Now that most countries have begun to flatten the curve of new infection, at least in Europe and at least for some unknown period, and our public and private lives are beginning to open again, we could face an even greater challenge than the pandemic itself: shaping a lasting and sustainable recovery.

The post-corona world today looks exactly like the old one – farmers are back to how they worked before, ships are filling our sea lanes, and your supermarket will not have changed much - apart from the longer queue to get in. The world has not changed much. At best it we understand it a bit more. Unless we demand that is it different, the recovery will easily allow it to go back to all the bad habits we embraced so warmly before.

And we must demand it. I do not have the time to go into detail today, but in comparison to the hard sprint that we have just run to protect ourselves from disease, protecting the climate and global biodiversity from ourselves is a marathon. Given the extraordinary expenditures now laid out, or proposed by our governments, we have every right to demand – not just as taxpayers, but as citizens and neighbours – that all of it comes with serious green strings attached. In some ways, it is fortunate that the EU has already put many strategies in place before the outbreak hit; starting with the European Green Deal and followed by many others; the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, and now joined by the EU recovery fund. This time, we are much more prepared to act swiftly and intervene deeply.

We must use this extraordinary moment of crisis to define the next decades. The recovery must be based on the principles of circular economy and sustainability. It is absolutely necessary for the protection of our nature, homes and lives. It is, or at least should be, unconditional. With it we can also create the economy of the future.

Where Europe missed the moment with the digital revolution, we can lead the circular, creating prosperity and opportunities for new green jobs. This would also put us back on the digital agenda, since it is an important circular economy enabler. The pandemic has shown us how dependent we are on our neighbours; for food, for medicine, for protective equipment, for our survival. But it has also shown us how fragile current economic model has made our world, and how unevenly its gains have been distributed. The food system cannot be immune to these changes. Under the influence of a new political direction, hopefully matched and resourced by the Common Agricultural Policy, it must urgently make the transition. This moment of recovery is ‘use it or lose it’ – and we cannot afford to lose it.

The transition must make extraordinary and irreversible leaps today, in this moment of crisis. There is greater faith in and dependency on government and science than in at least a decade. However, we must also be honest; not all sectors of the food system will emerge in the same shape as they were before. Some, like livestock, will be probably more exposed. Those affected negatively must be helped – the transition must be just or there will be no transition. But we cannot cling tightly to a vanishing past, or it will drag us into oblivion. One of the main reasons for the necessity of the Green Deal is certainly the fact that we are indebting future generations through depletion of natural capital. We are privatising the profits and socialising the costs, and have done so for centuries.

We cannot leave the next generation with all the debts, both financial and environmental, without providing them with at least a promise, and a solution, of a better world than the one we are currently living in. They are rightly demanding it and will not be quiet forever. The last few days have shown us the power of sustained civil protests, and don’t think that today’s youth will sit quietly by. No moment of crisis is easy or comes without a heavy cost. But it is here, and we must act swiftly and with purpose. To do otherwise, to go back to the old ways that we knew were broken before, would be more than irresponsible: it is the worst thing we could do to ourselves and future generations.

I look forward to today’s discussions, and hope they help inspire you to become part of the change yourself. All this, after all, will benefit you … as much as your neighbour. And this is another important lesson we have learned in the last few months - good neighbours are important.

I wish you a productive conference and thank you for listening.

Janez Potočnik
Chair FFA2020,
Chairman RISE Foundation

The Covid-19 crisis and the food system; this time it’s different?
Janez Potočnik, Chair FFA2020, Chairman RISE Foundation

4th Jun 2020

Climate Change

At different speeds, and with a vastly different set of approaches, the world is coming to grips with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic; around Europe, we are ‘flattening the curve’ and many countries are cautiously beginning to reopen public and private life. In the wake of an unprecedented lockdown that saw our borders and even our homes closed, we must fully assess the damage both the disease and the cure have done. Then, we must seize this moment not to return to business as usual, but to take a profound, irreversible leap forward towards living, working, and producing sustainably.

For the food system, this means a full-scale effort to deliver a much more sustainable and equitable way of not just producing what ends up on our plates, but to fully look at all aspects of how it gets there. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the food system was already in a persistent but slow-moving crisis that has allowed too many actors to look away and pretend that all would be well tomorrow. The serious effects of climate change and biodiversity loss, gross imbalances in power profit distribution in the food chain, an aging farm population; these are just some of the structural issues have plagued the sector for years, if not decades. While successive policies and governments have attempted to alleviate these issues on an issue-by-issue basis, the time has now come to take a fully systemic, integrated approach.

Crisis always presents an opportunity for radical change, and we should not shy away from making this case. By putting climate change, circular economy, and resiliency at the heart of our recovery, we could achieve now what would have been a watered-down compromise otherwise. According to recent work done by the International Resource Panel, gains of 60-80% in energy and water efficiency are possible today, leading to billions in savings and new jobs, as well as a better and greener world.

In the previous decade(s), quite a lot of the serious of work on what we need to achieve has been accomplished. Among others, they include increasing agricultural yields while simultaneously increasing biodiversity, reducing or eliminating waste, fair pricing that includes negative side-effects, better diets that support human health, a vast reduction of resource use – none of this should come as a surprise. At the broadest level, these are steps that all stakeholders can get behind. What the food system has lacked is a serious, enforceable, well-funded set of measures that coherently sets out how to achieve these goals.

The European Green Deal is designed to provide a new growth strategy for Europe, based on respecting the environment and responsible resource use. At the time of writing, the EU has just released several strategies to make this goal real: the Next Generation EU plan will serve as the basis for sustainable recovery from the pandemic, the new Biodiversity Strategy 2030 seeks to address some of the gaps related to biodiversity protection, as well as the Farm to Fork Strategy that will seek to create a fairer and healthier food system. With a help of the Common Agricultural Policy and other financial instruments, these policies should hopefully convert words into deeds. However, real questions remain whether or not the targets as set out in these policies are coherent enough, or even whether they are ambitious enough.

The gradual draw-down of European emissions is not fast enough, and founded on a Paris Accord that is not delivering on its promise of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. Despite many national and international pledges to the contrary, biodiversity is still in steep decline and the number of overweight infants and children is still growing according to the WHO. All of us have seen too many promises made and broken. We can only hope that this time it will actually be different, and double down not on uncritical applause, but on sustained efforts to increase the efficiency and ambitions of what is proposed.

Right now, the combined European policies outlined by the new Commission, with the support of the German Presidency, could set into motion a chain of events that shapes a better future for the food system. But only when it is systemic and imbued with the courage to make it happen, even at the cost of powerful vested interests. The next months will be, for all of us, a true test of whether we can accomplish what we all know must be done.

Janez Potočnik
Chair FFA2020,
Chairman RISE Foundation

Allowing red meat to remain integral within a balanced human diet, delivering carbon neutral beef and lamb by 2025
John Gilliland, Director of Global Agriculture and Sustainability, Devenish

29th Apr 2020

Blog image

Over the last couple of years, consuming livestock products have been to the fore in many media outlets, and rarely for the right reasons. Ruminant production has been particularly singled out. Farmers producing beef, lamb and milk have been made to feel Pariahs within their own Communities.

Yet, Ruminants do something us humans cannot do, they thrive on eating poor quality roughage, called grass, and turn it into highly nutritious meat and milk, providing Haem Iron and Vitamin B12, vital for a balance human diet, when eaten in moderation. In 2013, Devenish, an Irish based, research, development and innovative livestock nutrition company decided to step into this space. It purchased the Lands at Dowth, a 180ha grassland and woodland farm, in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bru na Boinne, on the Banks of the River Boyne, Ireland.

What is the aim? Could a system be developed where ruminant farming became carbon neutral by 2025? In a sufficiently transparent, credible, and independently verifiable way, so that Environment Regulators and Consumers, would be reassured; and consumers would still be able to eat a balance diet, knowing that the ruminant products they were consuming were from an independently verified, carbon neutral farming system.

How? Credibility. From the outset this was a key focus. Initially, this focused on Devenish’s Irish research providers, Teagasc and University College Dublin (UCD). As the project has built momentum, Queens University Belfast (QUB), The Scottish Rural College (SRUC) and Wageningen University & Research (WUR) have also engaged.

And furthermore? By taking a whole farm business approach. Farmers can reduce, as well as emit, GHGs. Alongside driving animal efficiency, we wanted to see what else could we do to reduce our overall GHG Emissions within our business. In addition, we wanted to create an annual, whole farm, Carbon Balance Sheet to communicate our collective improvement, within a year, and over several years, to see if we were on track to hit our target of carbon neutrality by 2025.

Moreover, by creating a baseline, measuring our performance against that baseline and manage our actions as a consequence. In 2014, in partnership with Teagasc, we became the first farm in Europe to use an aerial LiDAR survey to audit all our above ground carbon in our trees and hedges. In 2017, we sampled all our soils to 30cm and measured our soil carbon. These two surveys have given us an unique baseline, to which we can now measure our carbon change, over time.

The Result? In 2019, our first, whole farm, carbon balance sheet showed that we were displacing 56% of all the GHGs we were emitting from our beef production. Over and above improving the genetics of our animals, and minimising the numbers of days the animals take to finish; we have now turned our attention, to accelerating carbon sequestration through improving our soil pH, planting multispecies swards, managing our hedges and woodlands and establishing some agroforestry.

We are indebted to all our research partners who have come on this journey with us.

Dr John Gilliland OBE
Director of Agriculture and Sustainability, Devenish
John Gilliland, is Director of Global Agriculture and Sustainability at Devenish, an innovative livestock nutrition company which creates complete solutions, improving animal, human and environmental health, simultaneously. John Gilliland is highly respected and recognised as an excellent leader and communicator across the breadth of the Agri Food and Sustainable Land Management Sectors. He has been an award-winning farmer in Ireland, President of the Ulster Farmers Union; a Non Executive Director of SRUC, and an Energy Regulator in N. Ireland; while at the same time, he has been a policy adviser for Devolved, National and European Governments on Biotechnology, Climate Change and Sustainability.
The views expressed above are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by the FFA or its partners.