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Net-zero farming’s role in a sustainable supply chain

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Wanderlands is an environmental sustainability consultancy working with farmers and landowners to transition towards net zero and optimise marginal land assets that sit outside of land dedicated to food production. Through biodiversity enhancement projects on marginal land, we enable access to lucrative revenue opportunities within the nature markets.

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Importance of GHG emissions to UK farmers

Over one-third of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human-related activities can be attributed to how we produce, process and package food.

As climate change continues to remain a top concern among the British public, it is no wonder that many food producers and retailers are under increasing pressure to address the environmental impact of their operations.

The UK farming sector is uniquely positioned to be part of the solution to climate change in both reducing emissions and sequestering more carbon, while also delivering thriving wildlife and a vibrant farming sector.

National and sectoral GHG emissions targets

The UK Government have legislated to achieve net zero carbon across all major sectors by 2050.

This means an approximate 90% reduction in absolute emissions from the entire value chain, with the residual 10% addressed through real and credible offsets (as defined by The Science Based Target Initiative).

Currently, the agriculture industry contributes approximately 10% of the UK’s GHG emissions. The National Farmers Union has an ambition of net zero emissions by 2040.

Diagram of agricultural emissions


Legislation on the horizon for all listed companies

Many retailers already must report on their financial climate-related risk or have set voluntary net-zero targets.

For example, leading retailer Marks & Spencer, has established an ambitious decarbonisation roadmap which commits to reducing the carbon footprint across all its operations and the entire value chain to net zero by 2040.

Over 70% of the emissions of its food business have been identified to come from primary agriculture, particularly the livestock and ruminant sectors.

The government will soon require that all listed companies have a net zero transition plan with an ambition, interim target, and decarbonisation plan.

Sheep in field

Nature-inclusive sustainable agroforestry © Wanderlands

Farmers contribute to retailer’s Scope 3 account

Scope 3 emissions are categorised as those outside direct operational control that extend upstream and downstream of an organisation’s operations.

The emissions work similarly to VAT, passing and accumulating along the supply chain.

Each input has associated emissions contributing to the final product, meaning that all the emissions from food production and processing are embedded in the product that ends up on the retailer’s shelves.

Pressure coming from the large food companies

While outside direct operational control, Scope 3 emissions make up the most significant proportion of a carbon footprint and remain firmly within an organisation’s sphere of influence.

Therefore, on the horizon, farmers can expect to receive pressure to align with large retailers’ net-zero goals and decarbonise their operational contribution to emissions in the food supply system.

Aligning with the NFU net zero pillars

When it comes to a farm’s decarbonisation journey, the NFU’s ‘three-pillar’ approach to net zero is a great place to start.

It has been reflected in and supports the net-zero pathways set out by the United Nations and Science-Based Target Initiative.

At Wanderlands, our team of carbon experts align with this approach to support farmers in reducing agriculture-related emissions as far as reasonably possible through improved efficiency and resource use, in conjunction with nature-based carbon storage solutions in trees and soils to offset the residual emissions.

NFU Pillar 1: Improving farm productivity and resource use.

NFU Pillar 2: Farmland carbon storage in trees and soils.

NFU Pillar 3: Increasing renewable energy use and generation.

Gathering in the crop with the combine harvester

Gathering in the crop with the combine harvester © Wanderlands

Decarbonising with the right incentives

The impending rush by retailers to mitigate the environmental footprint of their food supply chains will cause challenges for farmers.

Therefore, the capacity of farmers to measure, report and verify on-farm emissions will be critical. As will be the right incentives for not only companies but also farmers.

Dairy cooperative Arla Foods provides farmers with an €0.03 per kg incentive for engaging in sustainability activities such as being powered by renewable energy. They also offer €0.01 per kg for submitting emissions data using its carbon accounting tool.

Decarbonising the UK food system demands collective action from major food companies, farmers, and policymakers.

Securing a sustainable, profitable future for farms

As an award-winning environmental and natural capital consultancy, Wanderlands supports farmers throughout their transition to a net-zero farming enterprise.

We enable farmers to implement robust technological solutions that permanently reduce operational emissions alongside high-integrity nature-based removal programmes that address residual emissions.

In addition to net zero, we enable farmers to get the most out of their natural capital and the nature markets, unearthing new revenue through nature restoration projects that complement, not compromise, core agricultural operations.

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