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Surge in Regenerative Farming Focuses on Fresh Produce

In recent months, the grocery industry has seen a significant rise in discussions about regenerative farming, with leading brands and retailers like Ocado, Innocent Drinks, and Unilever unveiling new sustainable schemes. The spotlight is on fresh produce, with major players taking bold steps towards environmentally friendly practices.

Two standout examples are Nestlé and Waitrose. Nestlé teamed up with drinks giant Diageo earlier this year to launch a regenerative agriculture initiative in Yorkshire. Meanwhile, just last week, Waitrose introduced a new regenerative scheme for its British suppliers at a Hampshire farm conference.

Jake Pickering, Waitrose's senior agriculture manager, and Matt Ryan, Nestlé's regenerative lead, explaind what regenerative farming entails, why companies are investing in it, and how these initiatives will impact consumers.

What is Regenerative Farming?

Although there's no single definition of regenerative farming, 'harmony' is a key concept. According to Pickering, it's about "farming in harmony with nature, ensuring we're doing the best we possibly can by mother nature while producing really great food." Ryan echoes this sentiment, describing regenerative agriculture as a "holistic approach to farming and producing food in harmony with nature," primarily focusing on improving soil health.

New Initiatives and Consumer Impact

Waitrose recently announced it would support over 2,000 suppliers in transitioning to nature-friendly farming practices, aiming to boost farms' financial resilience. This initiative addresses issues like top-soil erosion and provides resources for farmers to access affordable finance, supporting their shift to regenerative and low-carbon farming.

"It’s about using the natural environment to produce more nutrient-dense, healthier products, expanding biodiversity, and creating nature-rich environments within our supply base," says Pickering. He highlights that success in regenerative agriculture depends on adaptability to cater to individual farm needs—a view shared by Nestlé.

Nestlé's regenerative scheme, developed from its 2020 net-zero roadmap, focuses on five principles: minimising soil disturbances, maintaining living roots in the ground, protecting the soil surface, maintaining crop diversity, and integrating livestock. Ryan adds a sixth principle: context. "In some situations, livestock integration might not be possible, so it’s about remaining relevant to the local landscape."

Reducing Carbon Footprint

Both Nestlé and Waitrose stress the urgency of adopting regenerative agriculture due to its potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ryan notes that approximately 70% of Nestlé’s greenhouse gas emissions stem from ingredient sourcing.

By investing in regenerative agriculture, the company aims to reduce emissions, dependence on fossil fuels, and increase carbon storage in soils.

Collaboration is Key

Nestlé and Diageo's LENS initiative in Yorkshire exemplifies industry-wide collaboration, improving the resilience of local landscapes. Ryan emphasises the need for businesses to work together to build agricultural resilience against extreme weather and geopolitical issues. Waitrose shares this collaborative spirit, working with brands like Wildfarmed to create comparable metrics for suppliers.

The Road Ahead

Nestlé has committed to sourcing 20% of its raw materials from regenerative farms by 2025, increasing to 50% by 2030. This commitment is part of a broader investment of over £1 billion into regenerative farming.

Waitrose, on the other hand, reassures that regenerative farming will not impact food prices negatively. "We can deliver this while being the very best value in the market," says Pickering, citing their track record in animal welfare.

Ryan warns that without preventative measures, food prices may rise due to lack of supply chain resilience. However, sourcing locally through regenerative practices could stabilise prices.

Ultimately, the transition to regenerative farming is complex but essential. It supports farmers and consumers by promoting sustainable food production and has significant environmental benefits. As more brands and retailers embrace regenerative practices, the positive impact on fresh produce and the environment becomes increasingly evident.


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