Following two of the worst harvests in decades, the new McCain Potato Farmer Pledge campaign aims to help British farmers adapt to increasingly erratic weather
With much of the UK baking in near record high August temperatures, one of the country's leading food brands has today launched a major new campaign to help farmers adapt to escalating climate impacts.
McCains, the UK's largest manufacturer of frozen potato products, has unveiled the 'McCain Potato Farmer Pledge' backed by a £25m investment designed to help its supply chain better manage the impact of both climate change and the coronavirus crisis.
"British potato farmers have been hit immensely hard in recent years," said Howard Snape, regional president at McCain GB and Ireland. "Having faced a major drought and one of the wettest harvests on record, they've experienced two of the worst crops in 40 years. Added to that, without us honouring our contracts with growers and finding alternative outlets, they would have been left with a huge surplus of wasted potatoes due to COVID-19 shutting down the hospitality industry."
He added that the new investment would both help the potato industry prepare for projected changes to the climate and strengthen McCain's relationships with its suppliers. "However, we can't do this alone - to overcome the challenges facing growers, everyone needs to take the initiative to work collaboratively," Snape said. "It's why within our sector we're committed to working with farmers, customers, industry leadership groups and government to create a sustainable future for years to come."
The new campaign includes a grant funding scheme to help farmers invest in more sustainable irrigation systems and other emerging clean technologies, new multi-year incentives to reward farmers who continue to produce potatoes over the next three to five years, and enhanced sustainability-focused contracts.
McCain said the new contracts would improve prices on early season varieties to build greater flexibility into the farm-to-production system and reduce delays, while an Indexation Model aims to measure changes in costs of production to ensure fair and sustainable contract pricing for growers.
The campaign follows McCain's work to minimise food waste during the coronavirus lockdown by reallocating potato varieties normally earmarked for food service clients to retail product lines, donating surplus stock to food banks via a partnership with FareShare, and storing potato stock where possible.
It also builds on the company's existing 'Farms of the Future' initiative, which aims to promote regenerative farming practices that can enhance biodiversity and soil health.
"The last two years have seen two of the worst potato crops in the last 40 years and this paired with the impact of COVID- 19 has left our growers with a number of challenges including bad crops and surplus potatoes," said Daniel Metheringham, director of agriculture for McCain GB and Ireland. "McCain growers saw an average 18 per cent reduction in yield in 2018 and 16 per cent of our 2019 storage crop was still left in field. This Pledge is about doing all we can to help our growers and we can't thank them enough for all their work."
The initiative was welcomed by NFU President Minette Batters, who last year unveiled a wide-ranging new strategy for the farming sector to deliver net zero emissions by 2040 and bolster climate resilience across the industry.
"Following two seasons of extreme weather impact followed by Covid-19 market disruption, growers need all the support they can get to have the confidence to grow into the future," she said. "We're therefore pleased to see McCain taking a leadership position and providing this much needed investment opportunity and making a commitment to support their growers, and we look forward to working with McCain to help ensure that British potato production has a strong and sustainable future."
McCain is one of a number of leading food brands to step up investment in enhancing the climate resilience of their supply chains. For example, earlier this year Lucozade Ribena Suntory launched a new £500,000, five year research programme to identify more climate resilient blackcurrant varieties.
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