You may not think much about how your potatoes have been grown when you shop at the weekly store.
But with rising costs for both farmers and shoppers, what happens behind the scenes across farms and production lines can have a major impact not only on the cost of food in our basket, but also on our future food security.
In addition to short-term support to help UK producers manage the costs of essential goods such as feed, fuel and fertilizer, urgent investment is needed in innovations that can ensure food safety and long-term sustainability.
“Obviously, the food system faces many challenges, from the ongoing war in Ukraine to the effects of climate change. As the UK’s leading grocery store, we know we have an important role to play,” said Giles Bolton, Tesco’s Responsible Sourcing Director.
If we want to safeguard our future food supply, urgent investments are required in greener solutions that can be applied throughout the food system, from farm to fork.
The war in Ukraine has dramatically increased the cost of inputs such as fertilizers for farmers, while the impact of climate change on global temperatures and weather patterns is increasing the pressure on food supply chains.
The global food industry still accounts for a third of greenhouse gas emissions. Finding ways to produce the food we need more sustainably will help protect farmers and their businesses in the future.
This makes it one of our greatest opportunities to make a difference. By finding ways to feed the nation in a sustainable and affordable way, with fewer resources, we can improve human and planetary health, says Giles.
To help find solutions to these challenges, Tesco and WWF have launched Innovation Connections, a new accelerator program that pairs start-up sustainability companies with Tesco suppliers to accelerate innovation in the food supply chain.
Revealed: The valuable substances hidden in the waste
CO2: This comes from industrial power generation. Carbon dioxide reacts with ammonia to form stable nitrogen – a key ingredient in fertilizers.
Ammonia and phosphates: These act as a nitrogen source for plants and can be captured from wastewater from homes and farms.
Fibrous materials: These can be recycled from farms, food waste and sewage, and are a significant component in fertilizers.
The aim is to use the supermarket’s network of suppliers to quickly scale up these green technologies so that they can make a significant contribution to reducing the environmental impact of the average shopping basket and protecting the UK’s food safety.
“We have many of the largest and best supplier partners in the country, so it’s a powerful match,” said Giles.
Innovation Connections received more than 70 applications, which were reduced to five winners, each paired with Tesco suppliers and awarded funding to scale up their innovations in the supply chain.
One of the winners was CCm Technologies, a Swindon-based clean tech company that extracts useful compounds from waste and combines them with CO2 from electricity generation, so that they can be converted into fertilizers.
The company will work with startups Andermatt, which also makes low-carbon fertilizers, and Farm Carbon Toolkit, which will measure the results of the experiment to provide data on the potential to scale up the solution.
Together, they have partnered with Tesco’s potato supplier, Branston, to help reduce the environmental impact of our favorite spuds.
“The technology uses captured carbon dioxide from industrial power generation and materials from agriculture and industrial processes that are normally considered waste, such as ammonia and phosphates, to create new agricultural fertilizers,” said CCm CEO Pawel Kisielewski.
The process used by CCm to create its fertilizers “almost completely avoids the use of new materials” according to CEO Pawel Kisielewski
“These fertilizers from waste pellets have significantly lower carbon and resource footprints than normal and offer companies a way to manage their waste in a sustainable way.”
Regular production of fertilizers uses large amounts of raw materials and is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions related to potato cultivation. And with fertilizer costs rising rapidly for farmers, alternatives like CCm could be part of the solution to help keep prices down in the future.
CCm says that by using fertilizers generated through its own process instead, Tesco can reduce the carbon footprint of the products on its shelves.
“Our process almost completely avoids using new materials, but instead succeeds in creating fertilizers that generate only a fraction of carbon dioxide emissions,” says Pawel.
CCm Technologies is a Swindon-based fixed-income technology company that extracts useful compounds from waste so that they can be converted into fertilizers.
“The result is a slow-release pellet that touches on all three principles of the circular economy – eliminates waste and pollution, keeps materials in use and helps regenerate soils.”
To help scale the technology, Tesco has now linked CCm with its potato supplier, Branston. “We are delighted to have a huge opportunity to reduce the effects of emissions from the food system without costing farmers more,” adds Pawel.
Reducing the cost of inputs such as fertilizer is not the only way Innovation Connections helps find future solutions. Protecting nature is also about ensuring that pollinators such as bees and birds can thrive and pollinate the crops that produce our food.
The company’s fertilizers from waste pellets have significantly lower carbon and resource footprints than normal
Another start-up that has received funding is AgriSound, which uses sensors to monitor the number of bees and other pollinators on farms so that measures can be taken in areas where there is not enough. It has partnered with Tesco fruit supplier AM Fresh.
At the same time, Future by Insects uses food waste to grow insects that can be used to feed fish. It has been paired with one of Tesco’s fish and meat suppliers, Hilton.
Innovation Connections is part of a long-term partnership between Tesco and WWF that aims to halve the environmental impact of the average shopping basket.
Kate Norgrove, from WWF, says: “The way we grow does not have to destroy nature or force us to choose between affordable food production and a stable climate.
“We can reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduce food losses and food waste, and restore nature, while supporting farmers and producers in the UK and abroad to grow enough food for all of us.
“The need for change is urgent and it must begin now.”
To accelerate the pace of change, Tesco calls on the UK Government not only to provide more support to UK agriculture through current challenges, but also to remove the barriers holding back innovation in the food supply chain.
This includes asking the government to set timetables for updating outdated rules that prevent the upscaling of innovations in the late stages, including low-carbon fertilizers.
“If they are not confronted and addressed, we know that today’s challenges can create and feed tomorrow’s system problems, so we must continue to test and scale transformative innovation in our supply chains to create a thriving, resilient food system that protects customers, farmers and the environment,” says Giles .
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