The Co-op Group has launched a scheme aimed at monitoring and managing the environmental impact of its farming groups.
The Co-op Enviro-Map programme is to be implemented over the next three years. Farms are assessed for their carbon footprints and biodiversity, the data is then processed and farmers receive individual reports showing how they can improve the efficiency of their business and reduce their environmental impact.
Ciara Gorst, senior agricultural manager at the Co-op Group, said: “Co-op Enviro-Map will cover farms supplying dairy, beef, lamb, chicken, pork and eggs and will add a positive, significant new dimension to our existing farm support and liaison. It’s an initiative that will really help our dedicated suppliers improve the efficiency and profitability of their businesses.
“More than that though, it gives assurance to our customers that we understand how important environmental impact is, alongside British provenance and quality, whilst showing how we work closely with suppliers to achieve high standards across all these elements.”
The scheme is the first of its kind to be accredited by the Carbon Trust – an organisation that works to accelerate the move to a sustainable, low carbon economy.
Alongside the Carbon Trust, the Co-op Group is also working with agri-environment specialists Alltech E-CO2. Alltech offers a range of services such as making assessments on carbon footprint, water utilisation and biodiversity. For example, one programme Alltech runs is CowSignals – improving the efficiency of herds through understanding cows’ behaviour and their environment.
Alltech works with co-ops such as First Milk and Arla Foods and recently announced a budgeting app, made in collaboration with Arla.
The app, called Arla Forage, is designed for dairy, beef and sheep farmers to help calculate if the farmer has enough feed (or forage) available for the winter housed period, or if there might be a surplus/shortfall.
Alltech E-CO2 business general manager Ben Braou explained the broader significance of a farm’s carbon footprint, saying: “A carbon footprint is the holistic indicator of performance and is directly correlated with efficiency and profitability. It is derived from a comprehensive assessment of farm performance, with all inputs, outputs and resource use taken into account. It quantifies emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide (the three main greenhouse gases) and is expressed as grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per unit of production, up to the farm gate.
“In addition to carbon footprinting, the Co-op Enviro-Map will also monitor the broader environmental impact through a bespoke biodiversity survey. Aspects such as habitat management, land use changes, nutrient leaching and soil erosion will be covered.”
The Co-op Group already has an Agricultural Pillars initiative in place to define environmental standards. Farms are graded gold, silver and bronze – the best performing farms are rewarded with premium payments.
“The Enviro-Map programme will sit within the wider structure of the Agricultural Pillars as part of our investment in British agriculture,” added Ms Gorst.
Supplier farms for the Co-op Group that take part in the Co-op Enviro-Map programme will receive an efficiency and sustainability report shortly after their assessment. The assessment process takes about an hour and is carried out through a web portal.