Tesco to subsidise more sustainable livestock feed for dairy farmers

Tesco is piloting a new scheme for UK-based dairy farmers, whereby they receive subsidies for growing more sustainable feed.

Tesco is expecting to see benefits in terms of improved soil quality, reduced water consumption and a boost for biodiversity

Tesco is expecting to see benefits in terms of improved soil quality, reduced water consumption and a boost for biodiversity

The scheme, operated as part of the retailer’s ongoing partnership with WWF, will see farmers receive support to plant herbal leys – a mix of grasses and legumes that can be used to feed dairy cows. Tesco will cover 80% of the cost, with the scheme set to run for up to two years.

Tesco said in a statement that growing herbal leys on farms, rather than purchasing pre-made livestock deed mixes, will have multiple environmental benefits.

The plants, in themselves, provide a habitat for insects and attract birds and other wildlife. All grasses can be habitats but, compared to typical grasses, herbal leys do not need as much fertiliser to grow and have been proven to help the soil sequester carbon at a greater rate, Tesco claims.

Moreover, growing livestock feed onsite mitigates the issues associated with complex, multinational supply chains. One of the livestock feed sector’s commonly-used ingredients is soy; 80% of all soy produced globally is fed to animals while less than 10% is made into food for human consumption. Soy bears a high deforestation risk. Tesco has already committed to reaching 100% deforestation-free soy by 2025 but is facing pressure from NGOs Greenpeace UK and Mighty Earth to go further.

In the first instance, Tesco and WWF are providing subsidies for herbal leys to 15 farms that participate in the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group (TSDG). After the initial pilot results are assessed, Tesco has stated that it will consider supporting other TSDG farms, of which there are 563.

The TSDG was set up in 2007 and guarantees farmers a “fair, above cost-of-production price” for their milk. In exchange, farmers are required to engage on a variety of sustainability issues, including decarbonisation, biodiversity, water use and animal health.  

“We want to ensure we’re doing all we can to continue to support our farmers and, in this critical decade for climate and nature, help make our dairy farms some of the most sustainable in the world,” Tesco’s agriculture manager Tom Atkins said.

“We will continue to work with our farmers to both reduce carbon emissions and continue to increase the amount of biodiversity on farm. We will also be working together on more innovative initiatives like our herbal leys project, which should bring huge benefits in terms of soil health and biodiversity.”

An overarching aim of the Tesco-WWF partnership is to halve the environmental impact of the average shopping basket. As of September 2020, an 11% reduction had been achieved.

Sarah George



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