Why does agriculture need to improve sustainability?
by Duynie, UK
It's no surprise that the need for sustainability is at the top of the farming agenda. Feeding the world's growing population and leaving future generations with a habitable planet depends on action being taken now.
In the simplest terms, a sustainable farming operation is one that maintains or increases yields while also maintaining or improving environmental benefits. The desired outcomes being:
- The production of enough food to nourish current and future populations
- The protection and restoration of the natural environment and securing of future land productivity
- The creation of commercially viable systems that support farming businesses and the quality of life of those involved in them.
Anyone working on Britain's land, and almost 500,000 people do, will have observed the challenges we face. They include:
- Climate change and increasingly frequent extreme-weather events
- Loss of biodiversity
- Reduction in soil fertility
- Water shortages.
Currently, our use of natural resources outstrips nature's ability to regenerate them. Waste of all sorts, including water, food crops and so-called 'by-products', is central to this problem.
The pressures of dealing with the food demands of a growing population and the challenges posed by environmental change have crept up slowly, but now the situation is urgent. A new outlook is needed in our everyday lives, in industry, in government and in agriculture. Looking the other way isn't an option. There has been a change in the conversation, with everyone, from individuals to global corporations, realising they can and must do their bit. It's our collective responsibility to safeguard the future.
Pressures on farming businesses
The reality of running an agricultural business is a tough one. The pressures that apply to family farms also influence multinationals. There's no sustainability silver bullet that has the answer to all of the challenges faced by agriculture. The geographical diversity of the UK and the needs of different sectors make a one-size-fits-all approach to sustainable farming impractical. By following two guiding principles, use resources efficiently and minimise impact, everyone can make a difference.
A circular food system
In the past, when the world's population was far smaller than it is today, food production was simpler. People hunted, grew and processed their own food. If they had a surplus, they traded for goods they couldn't make themselves. Every edible scrap was consumed and what was inedible went towards nourishing livestock or fertilising the land. This is an example of a circular food system, where the end of the cycle (waste) is connected directly with the start (cultivation).
As populations grew and urbanisation spread, food production was reimagined. Output had to be big and efficient, so processes became specialised. Raw resources were exploited for the production of a single foodstuff and what were known as 'by-products' simply went to waste. This 'grow à use à throw' philosophy is an example of a linear food system where the end and beginning of the cycle are unconnected.
Why does Duynie Feed UK support circularity?
At Duynie, we're striving to make a circular food system the norm again. Why? Because it's the only sustainable way to feed ourselves and maintain the planet's natural resources. If we borrow inspiration directly from nature and use resources in a circular manner, waste becomes an input for new growth.
In our business, circularity works like this: arable farmers grow crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables), which are made into products (beer, bread and chips). Co-products left over after production (brewers' grains, potato peels) become nutritious animal feeds. The animals produce meat and milk, as well as manure. The meat and milk feeds humans, while the manure fertilises the land used by arable famers.
This is a 'closed-loop' cycle, with each stage clearly connected to the next. For it to function, each link is critical and has a responsibility to fulfil. Livestock farmers are pivotal in the balance of the cycle. By grazing animals on land not suitable for cultivation and supplementing rations with co-product feeds, they complement human food production rather than competing with it. In turn, Duynie fulfils a critical function by closing the loop between human and animal food production.
How does circularity inspire Duynie's business?
The Duynie Feed UK process is a simple one: we use 'co-products' (which may otherwise go to waste) from the food and beverage industries to make highly effective, palatable and nutritious animal feeds.
This has a range of benefits:
- It makes full and efficient use of resources and avoids unnecessary wastage
- It reduces energy and inputs required to grow and produce animal feed from scratch
- It frees up land to be used for human food production.
These benefits work together, each acting as a link in a sustainable, circular food system.
The benefits of circularity
Of course, for participants to stay in a circular food system, there have to be benefits. For livestock farmers who have a choice between commercial compound feeds and co-product feeds, these benefits include:
- Reduced carbon footprint: Co-product feeds have lower carbon footprints than equivalent compound feeds. This is because CO2 emissions resulting from the cultivation and processing of a crop are attributed to the main product into which that crop is processed. Compound feeds are the 'main product' of crops grown specifically for animal nutrition. Co-product feeds are the 'secondary product' of crops grown for the human food chain – the emissions generated during their processing are attributed to the 'main product', which may be beer, bread or chips, for example
- Locality: To further reduce the environmental impact of our products, Duynie works with UK-based food producers who process crops grown in their vicinity. While many compound feeds include imported ingredients such as soya, we don't import raw materials
- Sustainability: Feeding UK-sourced products with a reduced carbon footprint is a practical way for farmers to show their commitment to sustainable working. Customers, including supermarkets, increasingly require their suppliers to demonstrate how they meet stringent sustainability goals
- Profitability: Duynie's focus is on complementing the resources our customers have on-farm, with the goal of helping maximise returns from home-grown products. The outcome is a nutritionally balanced, targeted feed regime that optimises profits
- Performance: Co-product feeds from Duynie are scrupulously formulated and scientifically analysed to ensure their nutritional value is balanced and consistent. Palatable blends are readily consumed (minimising wastage), encourage forage intake and are highly digestible. Our nutritionist and sales managers are on hand to advise on the best approach for individual farms, taking into account goals such as an improved calving index or live-weight-gain targets.
Duynie's place in the circular system
By connecting food producers directly back to farmers, Duynie completes the circle that maximises resource usage. We've worked with livestock farmers for over 50 years, demonstrating to them that co-products (which might not seem immediately obvious as animal feeds) are, in fact, highly effective.
For UK farming to become truly sustainable, government policy alone isn't the solution. Individuals and businesses adopting their own initiatives will count, too. You might feel the difference you could make is small. But what if we all did something? What a powerful force for positive change that would be.