LEAF calls for the agri-food sector to unite to address the climate crisis

With the agri-food sector across the world urgently needing to adopt more sustainable management practices, farmers have a direct interest in implementing new approaches, but as part of a highly complex supply chain the sector cannot make the necessary transition alone.

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With the agri-food sector across the world urgently needing to adopt more sustainable management practices, farmers have a direct interest in implementing new approaches, but as part of a highly complex supply chain the sector cannot make the necessary transition alone.

Delivering the opening address at the LEAF Annual Conference on the 1st February 2024, CEO David Webster laid out the cornerstones needed for a global transition to more sustainable farming – at pace and scale. He called for a highly collaborative cross-industry approach to identify the interventions required to significantly reduce emissions, increase soil carbon capture, and sustain habitats for biodiversity.

“We are living through an incredible period of energy in farming, perhaps best captured by the surge of interest in regenerative agriculture. However, it is abundantly clear that weather patterns are changing rapidly and the challenge we face is how to scale the adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices globally. Integrated Farm Management frameworks, like LEAF Marque, can help farm businesses identify the actions they can take to reduce risk and build resilience. To promote their adoption, we need to work with farmers and partner organisations across the supply chain and share global insights with regards to best practice.”

Chaired by Tom Heap, freelance journalist, BBC Countryfile presenter and author, the hybrid conference, attended by more than 500 delegates in person and online, brought together speakers from across the farming, retail, food, and financial sectors, as well as leading academics. Panel sessions addressed the specific role of Integrated Farm Management as a framework to scale the transition to more sustainable, global farming and food systems. Themes included the function of data as a guide and tool for reporting, why livestock systems matter and their role in a global sustainable farming system, the need for dietary shifts, and the value of soils in both a global and commercial context.

Delivering the keynote address, former UN Environment Chief Scientist and Co-founder of Downforce Technologies, Jacqueline McGlade, Professor, Sustainable Development & Knowledge Systems, University College London, outlined the scientific evidence around carbon measurement and capture within the context of a global farming system. Prof. McGlade spoke about the challenges around the alignment of reporting and data collection, stating: “Measure it once, use it many times”, emphasising the value of data across the globe and how we need to implement more “global industrial standards” like the LEAF Marque. She also outlined the societal challenges being faced around the globe such as decarbonisation, adjusting to changing weather patterns, and the decline of wildlife rich habitat:

“We need to restore ecosystems” she said. “You cannot just say you are going to plant fifteen billion trees; it has got to be the right tree in the right place. We can have great science, and we can have fantastic policies, but to make it work it must work in a particular place – with all the context and all the history [of the land].”

The conference also explored the role of retailers in scaling up Integrated Farm Management practices across the supply chain with James Bradshaw, Head of Technical, Produce and Horticulture at Tesco, sharing both Tesco’s and LEAF’s journey in supporting 10,000 growers globally with the LEAF Marque certification process. He stated: “Given the climatic challenges we’ve all been experiencing; LEAF absolutely plays that role in building a resilient supply chain for the future and gives customers and shareholders confidence that we are protecting the planet.

Andrew Hoad, Head of the Waitrose & Partners Leckford Estate and long-term LEAF partner, also outlined the sustainable farming systems and Integrated Farm Management practices implemented by his team, including arable rotation, cover crops, herbal leys, and biomethane production.

LEAF’s annual conference was kindly hosted by Strutt & Parker at the BNP Paribas UK Headquarters and further sponsored by Frontier and Oxbury Bank.

The conference programme can be downloaded here and for the full conference video, visit LEAF’s YouTube channel: LEAF Annual Conference 2024.