There is no set recipe for more sustainable raw materials

24 November 2022

What is the carbon footprint of one piece of meat, one egg or one litre of milk? To answer this question, ForFarmers calculates the emissions of its own feed. Raw materials of feed are the major contributor to emissions, according to Wilco Engberts (Formulation, Quality and Laboratory Director) and Mona Dozeman (livestock feed formulator). “95% of our feed emissions come from the raw materials. It arises during the production or transport of those raw materials, for example. With the right data, you can find out the exact origin of raw material emissions, and with that knowledge you can work on reducing those emissions.”

Many things are interrelated

Wilco Engberts
Wilco Engberts

Sourcing and processing our raw materials responsibly is one of the three pillars in our Going Circular sustainability approach. We pay a lot of attention to reducing CO2 emissions. Wilco observes that this is also an increasingly important social issue. Due to increased attention as well as interests, he believes the need for reliable calculation models is also increasing.

“We are continually working on improving the sustainability of our operations in all sorts of ways. In doing so, you see that many things are interrelated. Sometimes in a positive sense, sometimes negatively. If you optimise on CO2, you also need to know what the impact is on animal welfare, cost price or, for instance, regionality in purchasing or sales. You would want to avoid that by reducing your own CO2 emissions you accidentally achieve the opposite effect in another sustainability theme.”

A balancing act

Mona Dozeman
Mona Dozeman

“For example, you can try to reduce CO2 emissions from raw materials by using maize from the Netherlands instead of from Brazil”, Mona explains. “But that does not automatically mean that this will reduce overall emissions. Due to the warm climate in Brazil, the maize dries much faster and more naturally, whereas you have to dry maize from the Netherlands very intensively, which again costs energy. Fortunately, different sustainability aspects sometimes do go hand in hand. Processing co-products from the food industry in animal feed is beneficial for CO2 emissions, and we convert residual streams, which people do not eat, into high-quality protein via dairy, eggs or meat.”

“Because the footprint of raw materials is so important, you have to use credible and independent data to support your calculations. That’s why we use the independent, international database from GFLI where different data streams come together. Our data are becoming more comprehensive and precise. The result is that we have better knowledge and have a better sense of what and how to optimise.”

Opportunities to reduce emissions

An important contributor that we can already influence, according to Wilco, is the location where raw materials are produced. “In particular, you don't want to source raw materials from areas that have recently been deforested or cleared, such as the Amazon or the Cerrado in Brazil. In those areas, the soil is full of organic matter due to falling leaves and toppling trees, so CO2 has built up in the soil for centuries. That stock is released when you grow commodities like soya on it in the first years after deforestation. The carbon footprint of these areas can be as much as 10 times that of the commodity itself. We could reduce emissions substantially by sourcing soy and other raw materials from North America or Europe, for example.”

raw material transshipment

Different interests

However, this is not as simple as it seems. “North American soy generally contains less protein than soy from Brazil. From a footprint perspective, soy from North America is the better choice, but financially Brazilian soy is the most advantageous. You have to consider the pros and cons”, says Mona. It is also an assessment you have to be able to make, Wilco says: “It has to be profitable. Ultimately, it’s about being able to produce the same amount of meat, milk or eggs with as few kilos of feed as possible, and therefore as little CO2 input as possible. How the animal performs based on the feed remains leading when you start shifting in the composition of feed.”

“ForFarmers is continually improving how we source soy from Brazil, for example, but be sure that this soy does not come from recently deforested areas. By comparing satellite images from 20 years ago with images from today, we can show that soy was also grown in these areas back then and therefore there was no forest.”