Our commitment to supporting sustainable agriculture is fundamental to our overall ability to meet our environmental targets, because of the significant proportion of our impact on the climate that comes from agricultural raw materials.
It has a wider significance too, because sustainable agricultural practices aren’t just about their environmental impact – they’re about supporting farmers’ livelihoods and local communities, which also aligns with our aim of building thriving communities. Having a long-term, ongoing commitment is important because changes in agricultural practices don’t happen quickly, and measuring their impact takes multiple growing seasons, given uncontrollable factors such as the weather.
Following the sale of the Primient business, the agricultural footprint of Tate & Lyle is less focused on corn. Other raw materials, especially stevia, have increased in relevance. So last year, we launched a sustainable agricultural programme for stevia, which showed good results in its first year, and we announced an expansion to this programme in August 2022.
Maintaining our commitment to corn
Despite the change in our footprint, corn is still a significant raw material, and we remain committed to maintaining sustainable acreage equivalent to the volume of corn we buy for our plants, now some 437,000 acres. All are enrolled in the sustainable agriculture programme with our partner Truterra LLC. The first of its kind in our industry, the programme aims to help farmers understand the impact agricultural practice change and the adoption of conservation practices have on their fields and their profitability, and to support farmers in adopting them.
We began working with Truterra in 2019, and will continue to do so through Primient, which now manages corn procurement for our remaining corn wet mill in the US, in Lafayette, Indiana. The corn for Lafayette and the corn-based ingredients we now buy from Primient are all enrolled in the Truterra programme, as is the corn for our two wet mills in Europe – Koog, the Netherlands and Boleráz, Slovakia. However, for the future, we are transitioning to a local sustainable corn solution for our European plants, working with our suppliers in those countries.
Encouraging progress for sustainable stevia
In 2021, in partnership with environmental charity Earthwatch Europe and with support from Nanjing Agricultural University, we launched a sustainable stevia programme with growers who supply us in China. We started the programme with a small number of growers in Dongtai, Jiangsu Province, focusing on fertiliser optimisation and helping them understand soil health through regular testing. In its first full year, we saw promising reductions against our 2019 baseline, notably:
- 16% reduction in eutrophication1, a process in which a body of water becomes overly enriched with nutrients, therefore decreasing its quality
- 13% reduction in acidification potential1, the measure of the potential increase in acidity of an ecosystem, which is linked to reduced soil health and water quality and lower crop yield
- 7% reduction in GHG emissions1.
1 Per pound of stevia rebaudioside A produced.
The programme also brings economic benefits for farmers and aims to help them achieve sustainability-related verification for their stevia, demand for which is growing given its popularity as a plant-based, no-calorie sweetener. And, since most of the smallholdings in the programme are managed by women and their families, it supports our contribution to UN SDG 5, gender equality.
We are now expanding the programme to all of our Dongtai-based stevia suppliers and launching a pilot with two farms in Gansu Province, where we also source stevia, to apply the lessons we learned in Dongtai.
We recognise the importance of supply chain resilience, so supporting growers and building a strong supplier network, while making a real change to the environment, is a priority. We really look forward to continuing to work with Tate & Lyle to develop this programme.
Maria Pontes, Director of Programmes and Partnerships at Earthwatch Europe
Discover more ways we're supporting healthy living and Transforming Lives through the Science of Food in our purpose report 2022