Environment and Marketing Also Play a Role in Feeding the World

Following last week's report from the JSR Technical Conference 2010 covering the role of genetics in helping to feed a growing human population, editor Jackie Linden writes that other speakers focused on the roles of the environmental and marketing.
calendar icon 1 October 2010
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The theme of the 21st JSR Technical Conference this year was 'Science – the key to feeding the world'. Environmental and financial/business aspects are also part of a sustainable production system.

Carbon Emissions and Reduction in Agriculture

Professor Gareth Edward-Jones

Professor Gareth Edward Jones opened his presentation promising examples of myth-busting on carbon emissions in agriculture as well as the technological challenges in their reduction. He has held the Chair of Agriculture and Land Use in the Bangor University since 1998 and has recently been appointed Waitrose Chair of Sustainable Agriculture at Aberystwyth University.

There has been considerable media and policy debate around the issue of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from food, he said. The issue of food miles as been a particular focus of discussion, as has the GHG emissions from livestock. However, the media and marketing messages often run ahead of the science on these issues, and as the scientific evidence emerges, it is clear that some of the commonly held views are not supported by evidence.

"Do food miles matter?" asked Professor Jones. He showed examples of lamb production in the UK versus New Zealand and tomatoes grown in the UK and Spain. The choice of parameter used for comparison – carbon dioxide equivalents, eutrophication potential or acidification potential – affects which of the sources had the lower environmental impact when consumed in the UK.

"Food miles don't really matter. Local can be best – but it isn't always," he said.

Dr Jones went on to highlight the wide range of carbon footprints for a number of different products, adding that average figures could be misleading. While storage, packaging and distance from the distribution centre do not contribute greatly to overall carbon footprint, the mode of transport has a big impact on emissions, with air-freight adding considerably to the overall total, while shipping does not.

Moving on to whether livestock could be carbon-neutral, Dr Jones said that the answer depends on the length of time under considered. A farmer can only control the inputs, he said, which account for only about 20 per cent of total emissions. Giving the example of a survey of carbon footprints from a number of lamb producers in New Zealand, farm size appeared to play a role but, in fact, it is the type of soil that is the most important factor.

Dr Jones went on to suggest that it is possible to produce meat in a carbon-neutral way, and that the answer is to grow significant numbers of trees. As this requires land, he suggested growing trees on a group basis as more practical and effective than either an individual farm or national basis.

It is evident that comparing carbon footprints on a biomass basis, e.g. per kilo produced, is problematical because it is not relevant to the way we eat. A more useful measure, he suggested, would be to calculate the carbon footprint for a nutrient, for example, per calorie delivered to the consumer.

The aim should be to produce the healthiest diet from an environmentally sustainable source, said Dr Jones. For animal breeders, this means comparing breeds under different systems of production.

Finally, Dr Jones turned ihs attention to management changes to reduce carbon footprint. So far, he said, the changes made have made little impact on the UK's commitment to reduce carbon emissions 80 per cent by 2050. He proposed that it will require a completely new way of addressing the problem and suggested focusing on the big-value items, and opting for the very best technology available.

Choosing renewable energy sources is also a good solution, he said but producers have little control over this aspect as around half of the energy is required in cooking the products.

Dr Jones summed up saying that agriculture faces hugh challenges and that there are no easy solutions. There is no overwhelming evidence that distance from farm to fork is a good indicator of environmental damage, he said, but there is mounting evidence that livestock farms can be carbon-neutral in the true sense of the word.

"We need a totally different approach, whether it is buildings or breeding," Dr Jones concluded.

From Farm to Fork in a Changing Britain

Steve Murrells

From his early years as a pork buyer, to his rise as Commercial Director at Tesco, Steve Murrells has witnessed first hand, the challenges faced by our pork farmers over the last 20 years. He joined Tulip in October 2009 into the newly created role of Chief Executive Officer for the company's UK operation.

He identified the following changes as being particularly challenging to the country's pork producers: periods of high feed prices, increasing legislation, disease outbreaks, environment, welfare and a weakening market place.

The farm to fork approach is important, according to Mr Murrells, allowing a cross-understanding of operations to produce collective innovations, as well as a customer focus to deliver world-class solutions to put pork very much back on the menu. As an example of a collective innovation, he cited the work by BPEX investigating the effects of biofuel by-products on pig meat quality.

One of the secrets of success, according to Mr Murrells, is to look for examples of best practice and he cited the supermarket chain, Waitrose, for putting its customer preferences first, for its commitment to producers, its high production standards and for clear communication. Based on these considerations, Tulip has invested in a new factory for sausage production so that it can supply a number of retailers all with different demands.

As a result, Tulip has built its own brands to reassure its customers. It is putting British products first to attract more customers through an effective alliance.

Mr Murrells concluded, saying: "The stakes are high but the rewards for all those involved make it a challenge we're more than ready to address head-on."

Blythburgh Free Range Pork – The Marketing Story

Alastair Butler

Alastair Butler became a partner in his family's business, Blythburgh Free Range Pork, in 2006 and moved to being full time in 2007, controlling all marketing and sales activity. The business currently has 1,850 sows – soon to expand to 2,200 – and most of the finishing is done free-range.

He believes that throughout any supply chain, marketing plays a key part and it is also vital to build a good relationship with the customers. Also important is to identify and reach potential new customers, making sure you satisfy the customers' wants and needs, and that they continue to remain satisfied with the products and services you are providing them. Continuous review is required to stay ahead of the competition. Mr Butler and his father before him have built up good relationships with their customers – meat wholesalers, catering butchers, local butchers and farm shops across much of the country.

"Pig farmers often confuse marketing with sales," Mr Butler said, adding that he disagrees strongly with business consultants who say that marketing is a waste of time. He stresses that a lack of marketing and/or advertising brings slim chance of success.

He believes that marketing has played a key role in the development of Blythburgh Free Range Pork over the past 10 years. Using similar models, it is possible to help develop a commodity own label brand like British Pork.

On the positive side, he sees a number of unique selling points (USPs) of British pork: its high welfare standards, local production and its image of meat you can trust. It is the supply chain where he sees as a major weakness, particularly the poor level of communication between producer and consumer. Even the meaning of the Red Tractor quality assurance mark is still not fully understood by many consumers, he said.

For the 10th anniversary of Blythburgh Pork this year, Mr Butler put some of his theories into practice. His company's USPs, he said, are a real story of high welfare and the eating quality of the meat (based on probe level, rearing to 24 weeks and the natural rearing environment). A new product logo was created to give greater emphasis to the name 'Blythburgh' as well as the strap line 'real free range pork' and an image of a pig to highlight the production system.

Plans for further expansion are influenced by the lack of space at the current site and so contract rearing and franchising are under consideration. Mr Butler sees a potential threat from a disease outbreak in the future and a second herd would help maintain supply, he said.

Mr Butler concluded by stressing how essential he sees marketing as a key to success, and he recommended that serious consideration is given to money spent on marketing in the supply chain. It is also important to understand your products' USPs and to communicate fully with all your customers, throughout the supply chain, he said.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous report from the JSR Technical Conference 2010 by clicking here.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.

October 2010

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