Regeneration Lead, Nestlé UK & Ireland
Farmers are being supported in more eco-friendly approaches to food production by being encouraged to adopt regenerative agriculture practices on their land.
In an approach that encourages greater care of the soil, considered crop rotation, and restoration of woodland and hedgerow planting, farmers and communities are finding social and environmental benefits, such as increased productivity and reduced flood risk.
Regenerative lead at Nestlé UK & Ireland, Matt Ryan, says: “Regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming – primarily focused on enhancing soil health – that aims to serve and restore nature, rather than conventional systems which have a significant impact on natural resources.”
Measures include having a deep-rooted cover crop over the soil in wintertime – like forage crops that sheep and cattle can graze on – to keep as much carbon in the ground as possible and minimise disturbance of the soil to keep the natural systems as intact as possible.
“We want diversity in the rotation, with roots in the ground at different depths throughout the year to improve soil structure, retain water and avoid erosion. This also sequesters carbon, so it’s a win-win.”
Adopting a regenerative approach to farming is increasingly important to food manufacturers such as Nestlé, with more than 70% of its carbon footprint coming from sourcing ingredients from farmers.
“If we are going to get anywhere near net zero, we need to collaborate more with our farmers within our supply chain to find the best practices to reduce carbon and benefit the farmer and biodiversity,” says Ryan, who is responsible for driving regenerative agriculture aligned with the company’s net zero climate ambition.
“We are looking to ensure that in the future, our operations are having a positive impact on ecosystems to benefit farmers, the environment and society.”
Adopting a regenerative approach to farming is increasingly important to food manufacturers.
Ryan explains that regenerative agriculture is important in tackling the climate crisis, particularly in areas such as considered use of fertilisation, a carbon intensive product. “We look to apply fertilisers only where and when it is needed,” adds Ryan, “to reduce phosphate and nitrogen, and prevent them entering our rivers and streams.”
As a global food manufacturer, Nestlé has committed to sourcing 20% of ingredients through regenerative practices by 2025, and 50% by 2030, through a concept that looks at the landscape and the different ecosystems – biodiversity, water quality, carbon sequestration and flood risk mitigation – as a whole.
“In focusing on resilience of our supply chain and carbon reduction, quite often we will see examples where the same types of measures are of interest to other beneficiaries of the landscape. For example, in terms of improving water quality and mitigating flood risk,” he says.
Partnerships and collaboration with other organisations operating in the same landscape enables scaling of these opportunities.
One approach that supports this are landscape enterprise networks (LENs), which connect groups of place-based buyers of nature-based outcomes and land managers into regional, self-governing, trading networks. LENs programmes are often centred around water quality, flooding, management of carbon, biodiversity and air quality, and have collaboration at their core.
In East Anglia, where Nestlé sources a wide range of its key ingredients including wheat, the company has funded land managers and farmers to improve the landscape by implementing practices like sowing cover crops in winter and reducing cultivations.
Another initiative is the Milk Plan. In partnership with First Milk, dairy farmers in Cumbria and Ayrshire, who provide fresh milk for Nestlé’s confectionery and beverage products, receive a sustainability bonus for taking practical measures to protect and enhance their natural assets.
It is also supporting young people in the dairy sector to get the best out of their businesses through an education programme which coaches young farmers on a number of areas such as business management, increasing efficiencies and regenerative farming methods. This provides a benefit to the farmers and their business and creates a more resilient supply of locally sourced milk for the company’s operations in the region.