Agricultural Sustainability Into The Future
Q: What does sustainability mean?
A: Achieving economic, social, and environmental performance in today’s dynamic business climate requires a sustainability strategy that is executed with discipline year after year. This starts with farmers reducing their emissions, preserving agricultural soils, and ensuring the welfare of farm animals, which are the areas where they are the ones that have the most opportunity to make the biggest impact. Within our farm operations, protecting the health and safety of any employees and managing our farming operations to reduce our environmental impact are key priorities. Together, these actions establish us as trusted partners to both the communities we serve and the customers we supply.
Q: How does our Purpose and Vision strengthen our commitment to sustainability?
A: As the world’s population rapidly grows towards 10 billion people by 2050, feeding that population in a sustainable way is a challenge and opportunity for our industry. Our Purpose is to deliver “farm-focused solutions to sustainably feed our world” and our Vision is to be a “trusted partner to both the communities we serve and the customers we supply”.
Together, these statements reinforce our commitment to innovation and the evolution of agriculture solutions to help us produce more with less environmental impact. Today, perhaps more than ever, we need to share our values around sustainability which will allow us to protect and grow the global food supply. Living our Purpose will help us promote our industry as one that creates an environment allows innovation and creativity in production whilst still addressing the most pressing environmental challenges.
Q: How has COVID-19 shaped our thinking on sustainability?
A: Farmers are central to our economy, and that’s never been clearer than during the pandemic. Farmers around the world have been united in their shared commitment to protecting each other’s health and safety whilst also maintaining the world’s security of food supply to help in preventing the global health crisis from becoming a global hunger crisis. The pandemic has underlined the important role agriculture plays in society and the role that farmers play as employers, manufacturers and as important members of our communities. Farmers have a large role to play in sustainability, and their sustainability strategies will be the launch pad for focused creativity and innovation leading to the security of food supply in the years to come.
Q: Where does agriculture have the greatest opportunity to reduce the impacts of climate change?
A: Fundamentally, agriculture can be a tremendous force for good when it comes to climate change. Agricultural soils play a crucial role in both food security and climate change. Globally, soils can sequester a significant amount of carbon from the atmosphere if paired with the right farming solutions and practices. By developing the products and solutions for reducing global carbon emissions farmers are doing their part to mitigate climate change and to advance agriculture through sustainable best practice options.
Population growth and food security
From 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9.8 billion by 2050, the planet’s growing population will put additional stress on the environment and societies.
55% of the world’s population currently lives in cities and this number is expected to keep growing to 68% by 2050. Concomitant with the increasing urbanisation is an increasing risk of labour shortages in rural areas. There have recently been many new regulatory requirements placed on farmers which when added together have the effect of discouraging potentially environmentally sustainable farm business growth, which in turn drives economic and employment growth. The consequential negative economic impacts on small rural towns, from this rural depopulation and the erosion of community and social services has seen the demise of smaller rural communities within affected catchments.
Changing consumer preferences
Consumers continue to seek transparency in food production. Alongside this increasing demand for transparency there has also been a move throughout the developed world, to a much greater use of plant protein as opposed to the current levels of animal protein. Whereas, in many lower socio-economic environments, as the economies are improving they are moving to an increased use of animal protein. This is not in itself seen as a problem for the agricultural industry as precision farming investments will continue to improve yields across all sectors whilst still allowing for reductions in costs and environmental impacts.
Increasing focus on animal welfare
As human standards of living rise around the globe, driving demand for animal protein, so do concerns about animal welfare and how to find more sustainable and productive ways to raise healthy animals. We as an industry are committed to a culture that supports animal welfare across all sectors around the globe and promoting awareness of advances in modern animal agriculture that help producers care for their animals and reduce environmental impact, while maximizing productivity to deliver safe and sustainable animal protein to the global food supply chain.
Land is simultaneously a source and a sink of CO2. Land degradation in agriculture systems can be addressed through sustainable land management, with an ecological and socioeconomic focus, with co-benefits for climate change adaptation. Climate-related risks pose a threat to economies around the world. Extreme events— fires, freezes, floods, high winds—are occurring with unprecedented frequency and already reshaping the world’s socio-economic outlook. The food sector contributes over 20% of total GHG emissions, with the agri-food chain accounting for ~30% of the world’s total energy demand.
Identifying What Matters Most
Our success depends on understanding and responding to the changing world in which we operate. We need to identify the environmental, social, economic and governance issues that are perceived as being most important to our stakeholders to establish a broad view of current sustainability issues. The resulting insights should help form our sustainability approach, strategies, and reporting on the issues that matter most to our stakeholders, and which we can influence.
Many of our stakeholders have promoted a shift towards greater environmental efficiencies in the agricultural sectors, and accordingly regulatory requirements for greenhouse gas emissions, fuel use and resource efficiency will intensify in the future. Climate risk is expected to have a significant impact on agriculture, as increased severe weather events will affect farmer livelihood and food security. Additionally, stakeholders mentioned the transition towards sustainable farming practices to reduce environmental impact. The agricultural industries should focus on research and development partnerships to keep pace with innovation so that digital technology can be leveraged to help guarantee food security.
The industry needs to focus towards clean tech and sustainable products, and increasingly quantify the external environmental impact of new products. Changing climates will affect how and where agriculture can be done, therefore we should consider this a top priority.
The agricultural industries have a broad range of stakeholders which each have a vested interest in securing the global food supply for current and future generations. We need to regularly engage with those stakeholders, (individuals, organizations, government bodies and other entities) to discuss their priorities and the important work we can do together.
The future farmer is likely to resemble a computer scientist, leveraging technology to increase productivity in order to meet the rising demand for food.
Our Sustainability Priorities
Advancing Soil Health and Soil-Carbon Sequestration
Improving soil health using best practical options such as cover crops, no-till farming and managing soil compaction contribute positively to mitigating climate change. Sequestering carbon into agricultural soils and boosting crop yields is a natural win-win for both the farmer and the environment. We are committed to developing solutions to implement good soil health practices.
We are already applying their farming expertise to develop innovative solutions to position agriculture to provide food security and also be a part of the solution to climate change. We are committed to reducing CO2 emissions across our farming sites to limit our impact on climate change. Smart farming uses advanced technology to increase productivity while reducing energy waste and costs. Our initial priorities have been on improving operational efficiencies. The goal of our research and development efforts with respect to farming systems, is to be a pioneer for the farmers of today and tomorrow by designing lower emission and more sustainable practices.
Engaging With Experts on Animal Welfare
Farm animal welfare is a collective issue for the food industry. As a proactive partner, we aim to bring together voices from diverse backgrounds to advance the field of animal protein production and provide insights on current animal welfare topics and collaborate on evolving welfare standards impacting farmers. Ultimately, we are committed to engaging regularly with independent experts to support the establishment of best practical options for farm production criteria and set an example that we hope others will follow.
Establish Smart Partnerships
Recognizing the growing engagement from consumers for information on how their farm animals are raised, we should focus our research and development efforts on technologies that demonstrate optimized environmental conditions supporting animal welfare and productivity. Digitalization of the farm has tremendous potential to provide valuable insights to inform product and service evolution to consumers, and to provide transparency of production methods that consumers care about.
Elevating Employee Health, Safety and Well-Being
We recognize the importance of health and safety to the farming business’s success. It is our policy to operate in a safe, responsible manner that respects the health and safety of our employees, our customers and the communities in which we operate. We will continually strive to work safe, every day, and every way. We are committed to achieving zero work-related fatalities across our global industry.
Advancing Soil Health and Soil-Carbon Sequestration
Deepening Our Engagement with Consumers on Soil Health
Across all our sectors, we look to find innovative solutions to tackle the challenge of sustainably and feeding our world is no different. The consumer is our guide, and in our conversations, we will look to incorporate their insights and feedback on sustainability issues that matter most to them to inform our product and service innovation.
Promote Best Practical Options to Farmers
BPO procedures establish for a given set of objectives, the option that provides the most benefits or the least damage to the environment, as a whole, at acceptable cost, in the long term as well as in the short term."
The BPO framework is integrated throughout the RMA (1991), but most critically through three main sections. First and foremost, Section 2 (Interpretation and application) includes the definition of what is meant by the best practicable option in relation to a discharge of a contaminant or an emission of noise in the context of the RMA (1991).
In this context it means “the best method for preventing or minimising the adverse effects on the environment having regard, among other things, to—
(a) the nature of the discharge or emission and the sensitivity of the receiving environment to adverse effects; and
(b) the financial implications, and the effects on the environment, of that option when compared with other options; and
(c) the current state of technical knowledge and the likelihood that the option can be successfully applied.”
THE BEST PRACTICABLE OPTION - WHAT DO WE MEAN?
In order to consider what is actually meant by the phrase – the best practicable option, there is value in considering the individual definitions of each of its three components.
The online Oxford Dictionaries defines the ‘best’ as “that which is the most excellent, outstanding or desirable”; ‘practicable’ as “being able to be done or put into practice successfully”; and ‘option’ as “a thing that is or may be chosen” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013).
Bringing these individual definitions together, we can explain the phrase to mean – the most desirable choice of something that can be done or put into practice successfully to manage our environment, while considering the economic, social, cultural, and spiritual relationships we desire for our Region.
With the above explanation in mind, it is evident that the best practicable option phrase can be used in different situations.
Using the above example as a template and regard to farming the land, the use of BPO’s in relation to control of discharges are also highly situational and influenced by an array of factors such as type of farming operation conducted, receiving water catchment, scale of any discharge, topography, geology, prevailing climate etc.
In the farming scenario, arguably the person who is in the most appropriate position to determine what their best practicable option is has to be the farmer.
The use of BPO in farming then gives the ability to allow flexibility of land use tailored to an individual property and its influencing factors whilst maintaining the observance of regulatory requirements in relation to the quality of the local environment.