As the UK government commits to slashing carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, the food and drink industry is rightly taking stock of how it can help achieve this goal. Just last week, at PepsiCo we announced commitments to spread regenerative farming practices throughout seven million acres of farmland around the world and reduce an estimated three million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
With food supply chains being some of the greatest contributors to carbon emissions globally, taking action in the next decade is crucial. The world’s food system is currently responsible for approximately 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.
We also recognise that momentum behind reducing emissions from direct operations (Scope 1 and Scope 2) is not enough. The food industry must make strides forward on Scope 3 targets – relevant to the broader value chain – to effectively combat climate change.
Ultimately, tackling climate change will take a whole food chain approach and collaboration has never been more important. Change, especially in the fields and on farms, must be implemented now.
In order to drive agricultural emissions down, we will need to see significant collaboration across the food industry, between grocery retailers, food manufacturers, farmers and government, at a scale we have not seen before. The challenge of reducing Scope 3 emissions requires us to think through the very concept of the net zero supply chain. Decarbonising supply chains is not easy: working through partners and available suppliers can be complex and it is difficult to source data and set clear targets. But difficulty cannot be an excuse for inaction.
The expectation for us to deliver is already rightly there, whether it’s from investors, consumers or wider stakeholders. Targets are not enough, delivery is essential. At PepsiCo we had all this in mind when we recently announced our own greenhouse gas reduction plans. It is why we focused not only on reducing emissions in our direct operations by 75% by 2030, but also set targets for our indirect value chain of driving down those emissions by 40% by 2030 through collaboration with our partners, doubling our previous commitment.
As a business built on agriculture, our most important partners to achieve these ambitious targets are farmers. To make our foods and beverages in the UK, we source over 440,000 million tonnes of potatoes, grains, vegetable oil and more, from farmers of all sizes. That scale means we have a responsibility to support our partners in creating a more sustainable food system.
But while agriculture contributes to many of the urgent environmental challenges we face around the world, it can also be a solution. As the impacts of conventional farming practices have become clear, a movement towards regenerative agriculture has grown. This is a set of practices that improve and restore ecosystems while building resilience by focusing on soil health, water management, fertiliser use, biodiversity and community. Regenerative agriculture practices are not a new concept. However, they aren’t currently adopted at the scale required to reverse historical environmental impacts.
A significant part of the solution to address environmental impacts lies in ‘precision agriculture’ – using state-of-the-art technology to grow more with less. Using the latest technology to gather data, farmers and growers can gain insights to help improve practices and increase the quality and yields of their crops, while ensuring they use the right amount of water and fertiliser to maintain soil quality. Harnessing data from precision agriculture technology will be a critical foundation to inform our regenerative agriculture practices.
This includes developing technology to produce higher yields and reduce carbon emissions. For example, through our iCrop technology we have been able to help farmers replace gut feeling with data using mobile and web-based software that allows growers to unearth how their crops are performing and why. The tool enables farmers to do live in-field crop monitoring, collecting data that can help track the correlation between crop performance, soil type, weather, irrigation and water usage.
Separately, our ‘Opti-Oat’ programme analyses how to grow the ‘perfect oat’ using over one million data points. Through this, we’ve developed a world-first Oat Growth Guide, which is open source and available to farmers free of charge. The guide helps growers optimise resources, therefore improving yields and creating a more sustainable source of oats.
We are also innovating to find ways to sequester carbon and reduce emissions to build resilience to climate change impacts. For example, we are transforming potato waste from the Walkers Crisps factory in Leicester into low-carbon fertiliser using innovative technology from CCM Technologies. The fertiliser is currently being trialled by some of our UK farmers, but once rolled out at scale, it is estimated to reduce our potato-based carbon emissions by 70%.
Ultimately there is no vaccine for climate change, but our planet is in crisis. Without collaboration between different stakeholders in the supply chain, reducing Scope 3 emissions will not be possible. A continued focus on regenerative agricultural practices and reducing emissions will be essential for our industry.