Working with farmers, PepsiCo intends to radically reduce water use and carbon emissions by 2015, says David Wilkinson

An economically and environmentally sustainable UK farming industry is vital to a prosperous future for the food industry and increasingly important to consumers.

Farmers understand the land they work better than anyone and, by regularly visiting their farms and listening to what they tell us, we are able to gain insights that allow us to work in partnership and improve both sustainability and business practices.

Agriculture is at the heart of our business. The appeal of our products depends on the quality of the raw materials so developing long-term collaborative relationships with the farmers who supply us is essential. In some cases, these relationships stretch back over 40 years. We have witnessed many changes to the sector, from changing consumer tastes to supply chain issues, policy framework at UK and EU level and, of course, the weather. So asking our farmers to partner with us to tackle the biggest environmental challenges by delivering “50 in 5” a 50% reduction in water use in water-scarce areas and carbon emissions of our key UK crops by 2015 may feel like an additional burden.

But our farmers have welcomed 50 in 5 with enthusiasm. They see the impacts of climate change affecting their livelihoods through floods and drought and, in many cases, they are having to deal with increasing concerns about access to water. They also know agriculture accounts for 36% of the total carbon footprint of a bag of Walkers crisps.

PepsiCo can provide the research and resources to develop and implement new technologies and our 350 British farmers will have the support they need to become more efficient and sustainable. For example, a new crop management tool called i-crop a web-based precision farming system we developed with Cambridge University allows growers to manage their crops to produce the best results for maximum yield and quality. Meanwhile, the Cool Farm Tool, developed with the University of Aberdeen and a number of peer companies, is a computerised carbon calculator that enables farmers to analyse how much carbon they generate during growing and harvesting.

We have also been trialling lower-carbon fertilisers with our growers and have invested significantly in researching new potato crop varieties that will increase yield and lower environmental impacts. These better quality varieties will replace more than 75% of our current stock by 2015.

The future of UK farming is too important to be talked about behind closed doors. The issues faced on UK farms affect us all and that’s why we will continue to encourage an open conversation with key stakeholders.

The day after the launch of the Sustainable Farming report, we created a roundtable event which I jointly hosted with the Ethical Corporation. We brought together leaders from business, trade associations, government, academia, NGOs on sustainable agriculture and two of the potato and oat farmers we work with. The aim was to build consensus on how best to implement sustainability in UK farming and the central theme was the need for collaboration.

Collaboration really is the key to delivering our aim of 50 in 5. We are already thinking about the next challenges, such as biodiversity and food security. We hope to play our part in guaranteeing that the UK food industry is fit for the future.

David Wilkinson is agriculture director for PepsiCo Europe.