When it comes to climate change, the farming industry is often first in the firing line when there is talk of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions. In reality, this finger pointing is unjustified. Dig a little deeper and it’s clear agribusiness is actually doing far more to combat carbon emissions that many other sectors. With the UK targeting net zero emissions by 2050, the agricultural sector needs to be seen and, crucially, needs to see itself, as part of the solution – not the problem. Andy Ross from Eden Search & Select looks at the opportunities that lay ahead for agribusinesses as the UK works to decarbonise its economy.
Pre-pandemic, in June 2019, parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100%, by 2050 (relative to 1990 levels). Obviously, a lot has happened since – but this ambition remains firmly on the Government’s radar. Is this still a realistic target given everything that’s happened in the last year and the amount of money that’s been pumped into the economy? Well, Boris Johnson seems to think so – as does the NFU. In fact, both are pushing for change sooner. In November 2020, the Prime Minister launched his ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution that will create and support 250,000 jobs, while helping to eradicate our contribution to climate change. This was followed, in December 2020, by an announcement that he wants the UK to have achieved a 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
This desire to achieve net zero emissions is an admirable goal, and one that agribusiness must get a grip on. However, there is a question mark hanging over who will pick up the bill for the changes that will be required. Supermarkets have their own targets for net zero – but will not be able to deliver them without the support of their supply chains; and adopting different ways of working across agribusiness will not be cheap. Nevertheless, change is required to protect the planet – and the drive towards net zero will need to be managed carefully to ensure it does not put more strain on farms in an already price conscious sector.
The NFU acknowledges that each business will have to map out its own net zero journey. However, there is also a clear need for policy change at a national level. In March, Eden Search & Select hosted its third Online Leadership Forum. Minette Batters, NFU President; Tina Barsby, CEO of NIAB; and JudithBatchelor, Director Sainsbury’s were invited to discuss: ‘How will the UK adapt and succeed in producing healthy, affordable and sustainable food?’. Speaking to an audience of almost 100 agribusiness leaders, Minette, Tina and Judith discussed the opportunities on offer on the road to net zero and agreed there is a real chance for UK farmers to take the lead on a sustainable revolution using a scientific and data driven approach. Acknowledging the industry is going through a huge period of unprecedented change – brought about by Brexit, the pandemic, and climate change – they stressed the importance of collaboration. They also discussed the need for a range of sustainability metrics that will enable businesses to measure progress and get rewarded for working in a sustainable way.
In parallel, there is a need to get consumers to see the value in buying food in a more sustainable way. Britons spend an average of 8% of their total household expenditure on food and have got used to buying some of the cheapest food in the world. Getting consumers to spend more on everyday items will be hard – particularly when healthy, sustainable food tends to cost significantly more. There are signs of a slight shift in some parts of the market. The pandemic and Brexit have forced consumers to buy differently. In a survey conducted by ONS, 31% of consumers said they will buy more locally produced food to support their local economy and community. But will this trend continue as society starts to open up again?
Ultimately, net zero is a challenge that all parts of the food supply chain must tackle from field to fork. There is a lot going on right now that could distract us from addressing climate change, and there are lots of unanswered questions, but we must remember that agriculture isuniquely placed to be part of the solution – by reducing emissions, by boosting productivity, and by changing land use to capture and sequester more carbon. The pandemic has shown how quickly we can all adapt when we need to and the phrase ‘build back better’ applies to the agriculture sector just as much as it does to other industries.
As conversations around sustainability increase, a number of Eden clients are already partnering with us to identify experts from different sectors that can help their business take the next step towards becoming carbon neutral. If you want to talk about this subject, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also watch the Eden Online Leadership Forum