Mustard and mint farmers plough towards a more sustainable supply chain

03 April 2024 by Acre
blog author

​With food security still posing a global problem amid the climate crisis, businesses are collaboratively working to produce more robust yields.

Unilever and Colman’s are launching their first regenerative agriculture project in the UK to protect food by trialling regenerative agriculture practices, as weather conditions become more volatile.

Regenerative agriculture is an ancient farming method which is being adopted more commonly among the farming community to boost sustainability practices and enhance supply chain resilience.

Mint and mustard farms in the UK, which supply ingredients for Colman’s products, are trialling alternative methods to support soil health - their most important asset - and prevent further land loss. Currently, the equivalent of one soccer pitch of soil is lost every five seconds worldwide.

The farming project is financed by Unilever’s Climate & Nature Fund, with technical support from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and will support Unilever in securing and regenerating 1.5 million hectares of land, forests and oceans by the end of the decade.

James Holmes, Unilever Plant Science & Technology Lead, said: “Trialling these regenerative agriculture practices will help to create much-needed long-term resilience in the agricultural value chain against climate-related impacts.

“Simply put, if farmers cannot adapt to the challenges of climate change, we won’t be able to grow ingredients in the same way – the unpredictability of weather is the biggest challenge for farmers. Ultimately, by investing in the soil, farmers improve their resilience to extreme weather.

“As part of this project, we want to work with farmers to understand how they can use less fertiliser or different low-carbon products.”

Why is regenerative agriculture so important for food security?

Extreme weather patterns are unpredictable and more secure farming methods such as agricultural regeneration practices are crucial to farmers who want to use nature-based solutions to cut emissions, protect food supplies, improve the water cycle and boost biodiversity.

Those with mint and mustard farms in the Norwich and Peterborough regions are the first to benefit from this project for a more sustainable, profitable future.

How will the new Unilever sustainability initiative work?

The project will look at a variety of farming practices, to help ease the obstacles facing mint and mustard farmers, including alternative pest control (beetles can be hazardous to crops and imported fertiliser dependency can pose a problem), new digital irrigation scheduling systems, reduced cultivation and cover and companion crops.

Data will be collected throughout the trials and will focus on key metrics such as soil health, the use of fertilisers, farm yields and profitability.

Baseline data has already been collected and established with the farmers, enabling NIAB to develop a framework to measure the impact of new regenerative agriculture practices.

The first harvest of crops using these regenerative agriculture practices will take place in July. Data will then undergo an auditing process as part of Unilever’s global Measurement Reporting and Verification System, with results to be published in 2025.

Andre Burger, Unilever’s UK and Ireland Head of Nutrition, said: “Healthy soil should matter to all food businesses and as the climate crisis continues to impact the natural world, we need to not just protect but also to help regenerate the soil and farmland used to grow the crops and ingredients we enjoy every day.”

Click here to see how Acre has helped fellow B Corp company Guayakí make an impact in the regenerative agriculture space, with the hire of its Director of Impact and Regeneration.

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