Morrisons to source exclusively from net-zero British farms by 2030

Cattle farmers may have to transition to different animal breeds that produce less methane. Image: Morrisons

The business currently works with 3,000 farmers and growers across the UK to source lines including meat and produce. Over the next nine years, it will help them to achieve net-zero business models, it said today (8 March). 

This month, Morrisons will start working with a select group of farmers to develop models that are net-zero across the lifecycle. Models will likely include switching to renewable energy, reducing water and fertiliser use and regenerative agricultural practices that help improve soil’s capacity to sequester carbon. Offsetting will be posed as a last step and farmers will be encouraged to restore grassland, peatland, forest and hedgerows on their own estate or elsewhere in the UK rather than purchasing carbon credits that fund projects overseas.

Morrisons has also stated that, in the long-term, it may switch supply contracts to reduce the miles travelled by products. It will also support cattle farmers to switch to different animal breeds that produce less methane.

Once the blueprint models are developed, Morrisons expects implementation to be rapid across its network of farmers and growers. It believes that net-zero certified eggs will be ready for launch by 2022 as the first product.

Morrisons is working with the National Union of Farmers (NFU) and Natural England to help deliver the changes needed. It has also set up a school of sustainable farming at Harper Adams Agricultural University to help provide farmers with the necessary training.

The commitment does not mean that Morrisons will stop sourcing some lines from overseas. Products like tropical fruits, tea, rice and chocolate are very challenging to produce in the UK’s climate. It covers all products and ingredients sourced from the UK across Morrisons’ own-brand lines. It is not yet clear whether Morrisons will ask the third-party brands it stocks to follow suit.

 “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges for our generation and growing food is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” Morrisons’ chief executive David Potts said.

“As British farming’s biggest supermarket customer, we’re in a unique position to guide our farms and help lead changes in environmental practices. It’s years ahead of industry expectations – and an ambitious target – but it’s our duty to do it.”

A net-zero hurdle

Agriculture is one of the world’s highest-emitting and hardest-to-abate sectors – and one which will likely need to expand as the global population continues to grow.

According to the IPCC, the way in which humanity uses land accounts for 23% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions, with agri-food accounting for a majority share. Moreover, the sector has driven more than 70% of deforestation by area size to date.

While the UK’s farming sector is lower carbon with less of a deforestation risk than in nations like Brazil, for example, it is not without its climate challenges.

The Climate Change Committee’s recommendations for aligning the sector with the 2050 net-zero target include tackling food waste at all levels; restoring peatland; reducing annual red meat consumption on a per-capita basis and incentivising low-carbon practices. The Agriculture Bill is seeking to deliver on this last aim post-Brexit but has been widely criticised.

Some of the recommendations have been supported by industry groups. For instance, the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission has come out in favour of measures to re-allocate space from livestock to crops, and to hedgerows and meadows that can act as carbon sinks and habitats for at-risk species. The NFU, meanwhile, has maintained that the UK can continue to produce and consume the same level of red meat if the farming sector dramatically increases biofuel production.

Sarah George

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