Agriculture currently accounts for 10 per cent of all UK greenhouse gases, and as British farming’s biggest customer, Bradford-based Morrisons said it is uniquely placed to work directly with its 3,000 farmers to create net zero carbon farms.
New research has revealed that two thirds of people are becoming more conscious of the environmental impact of the food they eat and the supermarket will provide customers with a range of net zero products in years to come.
Morrisons expects that the first products to reach net zero carbon status will be eggs as early as 2022, followed by lamb, fruit, vegetables, pork and beef in the years to follow.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has asked farmers to work towards a 2040 net zero goal and other supermarkets are working towards a 2035 goal.
Morrisons has its own livestock and produce teams and works directly with farmers to take meat, fruit and vegetables direct from farms to its 20 fruit, vegetable and meat preparation sites.
This month, Morrisons will start working with a group of meat and produce farmers to create net zero carbon farm ‘models’. Together with the farmers, it will look at the emissions picture through the whole life cycle of farm produce - from germination to leaving the farm gate for a Morrisons store.
Once a workable blueprint has been established, the models will then be shared with all Morrisons farmers, so that all food can be produced in this net zero carbon way.
The farm models will look at reducing carbon through rearing different animal breeds, using low food-mile feed, using renewable energy and low emission housing and cutting down water and fertiliser use. They will also look to offset carbon emissions by planting grassland and clover, restoring peatland, planting trees and seeding hedgerows.
Within agriculture, beef farming is the most carbon intensive - generating 45 per cent of carbon emissions for only five per cent of products sold. Nearly half of this is down to methane produced by cattle. Morrisons said it will work with its beef farms to use smaller cattle breeds, pick low methane feeds, and look at methane reducing supplements such as seaweed.
As part of the programme, Morrisons will work with universities, farming and countryside organisations and carbon experts.
Morrisons will partner with the NFU to pool farmer knowledge, work with Natural England on planting and water use, and use industry experts to measure and evaluate data. As part of the programme Morrisons will also set up the world’s first School of Sustainable Farming at Harper Adams Agricultural University to offer farming training.
David Potts, chief executive of Morrisons, said: “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges for our generation and growing food is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
"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.”
Environment Secretary, George Eustice MP, said: “The UK is the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050. Our farmers will play a key role in achieving this.
“It is encouraging to see Morrisons commit to being supplied by net zero carbon British farms on such an ambitious timescale, helping to protect the environment for future generations.”
Minette Batters, president of the National Union of Farmers, said: “British farming has a key role to play in the nation’s drive to net zero.
"Our contribution spans three pillars of action - reducing emissions, storing carbon on farmland, and renewables and the bioeconomy. Our members are already playing their part to help achieve the NFU’s ambition of reaching net zero agriculture by 2040 and want to do more. I applaud Morrisons on its commitment and look forward to continuing our good working relationship.”
Patrick Holden, chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust,a dded: “Morrisons has shown real leadership in setting challenging targets for emission reductions and for encouraging their suppliers to produce in more sustainable ways.”
Morrisons' net zero carbon UK agriculture target forms part of its plan to become net zero for emissions by 2040, in line with the international Paris Agreement. Reducing carbon in primary food production forms a key part of this programme.