‘We are at the beginning of a new agricultural revolution’

2 August 2018

Sustainable or corporate social responsibility; everyone knows the term but what does it actually mean? And more importantly, how do we, as ForFarmers, implement this in practice? In the coming period, Nick Major - Director of Corporate Affairs and responsible for sustainability within ForFarmers - will be talking to colleagues who are busy with sustainability in their work and thus give content to ForFarmers as a sustainable company. First stop: Stijn Steendijk, Director Strategy & Organisation, who has sustainability in his portfolio. 

Sustainability is not something that you do on the ‘side’

Stijn: “For me, sustainability is For the Future of Farming; ensuring that we can produce feed sustainably in the long term. This is in the interest of our customers, but also of the consumer, our employees and our company. We see that more and more people find it important to work for an organisation that makes a positive contribution to society.”

Nick: “I recognise that. To me, sustainability is in the cooperation with our customers. Together, we put a daily effort into achieving higher efficiency and better animal health and welfare. As a result, the customer achieves a better return and reduces his impact on the environment. A good example is the phosphate legislation for pig and dairy farming in the Netherlands. With adjustments to the feed, we help livestock farmers to reduce their phosphate emissions. This enables them to keep their business profitable and at the same time contribute to making the sector more sustainable.”

Stijn: “Companies that want to take the lead in their sector, must lead the way in sustainability. And no, that is not something that you do on the ‘side-line’.”

Nick Major (l.) and Stijn Steendijk share ideas about sustainability.
Nick Major (l.) and Stijn Steendijk share ideas about sustainability.

Proud of what has already been achieved

Nick: “I have seen a clear change in ForFarmers over the past two years. The questions I get are no longer about why corporate social responsibility is important, but about how we can improve our performance.”

Stijn: “If we hadn't developed our way of thinking about sustainability, a number of projects wouldn't have gotten off the ground. Like the car policy, which limits the CO2 emissions of lease cars and encourages employees to choose an electric car. Or the continuous research of the Nutrition Innovation Centre (NIC) into alternative proteins. Or the fact that projects that contribute to one of our sustainability KPIs may take longer to recoup the investment. I was also pleasantly surprised with the reactions to the questions about sustainability in last year's employee engagement survey. This showed that  our colleagues are more aware of our focus on sustainability. The contribution of the advisory board for sustainability, with experts from the industry who challenge us on our performance, is also very valuable.”

Nick: “The feed industry nowadays acts much more proactively in sustainability issues and is increasingly seen as part of the solution, not the problem. The feed industry plays an important role in finding solutions on themes such as the ecological footprint, responsible purchasing and antibiotic resistance.” 

Wish list

Stijn: “What I am committed to is that ForFarmers really becomes a leader in the field of sustainability in the sector and can actually bring about change where necessary. And that every employee knows how he or she can make a difference.”

Nick: “I fully agree with that. In 2018, our sustainability KPIs will be audited, which is another important step forward. Personally, I think we should concentrate on the following four areas: first, using raw materials for which no forests have been felled. Secondly, become less dependent on fossil fuels and, over time, switch to the use of renewable energy, in order to contribute to the realisation of the climate objectives. Thirdly, providing our customers with information about the environmental effects of the products we supply. Sooner or later, they will need this information to calculate their own greenhouse gas emissions, and to inform their own customers. Finally, like many other people, I have been inspired by the TV series Blue Planet II that has highlighted the impact of non-recyclable plastic on the oceans. I would like to ask everyone to look where we use plastic in ForFarmers, and how it can be replaced or recycled.”

Impact on a changing world

Stijn: “I am in touch on a regular basis with representatives from the processing industry and the retail sector, two important links in the chain. We often talk about sustainability. A hot topic at present, is circular economy. It sounds noble, but is it the solution? We shouldn't simply go where the wind blows, but ask the right questions and ensure that we get the answers. So ask yourself: is local sourcing of raw materials really more sustainable than buying soya from Brazil? Is extensive livestock farming more welfare-friendly than intensive? In practice, this is often much more complicated than it seems at first glance. We can make a constructive contribution to this discussion, by ensuring that chain partners rely on facts when they make a decision that concerns sustainability. This is an important part for our industry and ForFarmers.”

Nick: “The number one issue at the moment is how we feed a growing and more prosperous world population. With the rapid developments in automation and digital technology, we are at the beginning of a new agricultural revolution. This new technology enables farmers to produce more despite climate change and decreasing natural resources. But for that, we must be able to convince society of the usefulness and benefits of using new technologies. Together with supply chain partners, we can help explain and substantiate this. Because we have a great story to tell that starts with the origin of our food and continues to the role of the farmer and ForFarmers!”