Greener Guinness: Diageo launches major regenerative agriculture scheme in Ireland

Pictured: A cover crop field being tended to by Guinness' global brand director Grianne Wager with farmer Walter Furlong of Cooney Furlong Grain Co. Wexford. Image: Diageo

The Diageo-owned brand this week confirmed that it will commence the first phase of the scheme at more than 40 farms this spring, during the barley sowing season. Suppliers signed up include Boortmalt, Comex McKinnon and Glanbia.

Throughout the scheme, farmers will be supported to adopt practices that improve soil health and the carbon sequestration potential of their soils and increase biodiversity. These include practices that reduce the use of synthetic fertiliser and improve water efficiency.

Guinness has received endorsement from the Irish Government for the scheme, which it claims is the largest in the country to date. It has enlisted the support of agronomists and other regenerative agriculture specialists to help deliver the pilot.

The plan is for the scheme to run for three years on a pilot basis, with data collected throughout on environmental outcomes and barley yields. Additional farms, beyond the 40 initial participants, will be invited and encouraged to sign up.

“This pilot is the first such programme being implemented by Diageo and the outcomes will help inform other potential opportunities, not just in Ireland, but in other countries where we source raw materials,” said Diageo Europe’s president John Kennedy.

“We will openly share the results from the pilot programme so that other farms can learn and adopt practices that have demonstrated the highest potential impact from an environmental and farm profitability standpoint. Like the Irish farming community, we are ‘all in’ for the long haul – for our people, products, partners and planet.”

Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, welcomed the fact that “one of Ireland’s most iconic brands is taking a strong leadership position on farming and the environment, as we all work towards reducing carbon emissions and meeting our ambitious but necessary climate change targets”.

Ireland’s Climate Action Plan commits the island to reaching net-zero by 2050 at the latest and has an interim commitment to cut emissions by 51% by 2030, against a 2014 baseline. Agriculture is Ireland’s single largest contributor to overall greenhouse gas emissions – the sector accounted for 37.1% of annual national emissions in 2020.

Regenerative movement

Regenerative agriculture is framed as part of the solution to the twin nature and climate crises. As well as helping farmers adopt low-emission practices, it can improve carbon sequestration and tackle issues relating to soil and ecosystem degradation.

Soil degradation is an issue facing many nations which have now been intensively farming for decades. The Irish government estimates that 33% of arable land has been lost to soil erosion or pollution to date. And, in the UK, Future Food Solutions estimate that soil organic matter has fallen by 50% over the past 60 years.

This can have knock-on impacts on nature, carbon sequestration potential and, ultimately, on the yields that land is able to support. This will bear both environmental and social consequences against a backdrop of population growth.

Other businesses piloting and scaling regenerative agriculture solutions in response to these challenges include Unilever, Nestle, Danone, Patagonia, McCain and KP Snacks.

Sarah George

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