McDonald’s Europe has launched a unique initiative designed to promote and share the benefits of sustainable agricultural practices among its suppliers and the farming community.

Called Flagship Farms, the scheme has been developed in conjunction with the Oxfordshire-based Food Animal Initiative and will showcase innovative farming practices being used by some of the 500,000 European farmers supplying the company. Seven farms have been chosen to begin with (see list below) and another six will join shortly.

All Flagship Farms can demonstrate novel, sustainable ways of dealing with a range of issues, from soil, water and energy use to animal welfare and employee wellbeing. It builds on the McDonalds Agricultural Assurance Programme, which uses existing farm assurance schemes to assess and improve the standards on farms.

“Our customers care about where food comes from and we want to build on that trust,” McDonalds Europe chief supply chain officer Karl Fritz said. “Flagship Farms highlights successful innovations ahead of the mainstream and we believe it will help us assure the future of sustainable agricultural production in Europe.”

2008 Farmers Weekly Poultry Farmer of the Year David Brass is the only UK Flagship Farm. He supplies around 25m eggs to McDonalds each year, sourced from his own 48,000-bird free range flock near Penrith, Cumbria, and several local producers.

Mr Brass has demonstrated how high welfare standards can benefit the wellbeing of the flock, the environment and the farm’s profitability. In particular, he has planted 100,000 trees in the last 18 months as he believes this increases productivity of free-range hens and reduces welfare problems.

“There’s very little science behind free range egg production. We want to change that and prove to people that these things do work and benefit the bottom line. With Flagship Farms, it’s nice to be able to learn from other farmers and improve what they’re doing as well.”

Mr Fritz said that such farm-based initiatives may not be rewarded with a higher price for the end product, but they did improve brand acceptance among consumers and therefore improved sales in the longer-term.

“The ultimate goal of initiatives like Flagship Farms and MAPP is to assure supply, maintain price stability and respond to consumer demand for responsibly sourced, traceable produce, so that everyone benefits,” he said.

McDonalds Flagship Farms
The Lakes Free Range Egg Company, Cumbria

Free range egg producer using range of methods, including planting trees, to improve flock welfare

Dempsey Farm, Ireland
Beef farm demonstrating high standards of animal welfare and good environmental management

Benefica do Ribatejo, Portugal
Tomato farm using range of technology to meet processor requirements

Primaflor, Spain
Lettuce producer that has demonstrated how efficient water use and targeted fertiliser application can improve productivity and protect the environment

Stockland, Netherlands
Dairy farm using range of methods to improve cow welfare. Examples include dual chamber water beds, grooved anti-slip flooring, weekly foot bathing and tri-annual foot trimming

Autruy-Sur-Juine, France
Cereal farm that has shown how soil testing can maximise yields and avoid over-application of fertiliser

Farm Frites, Poland
Potato farm that uses several innovative processes and technology to improve use of soil, water and energy. Potato yields have been increased to 45t/ha, compared with a national average in Poland of nearer 12-15t/h