Tesco launches UK’s largest low-carbon fertiliser

Tesco's low-carbon fertiliser roll-out will increase food security and cut the carbon footprint of its field vegetables according to the retailer.

British retailer Tesco is partnering with five of its largest field vegetebale suppliers to launch the UK’s biggest ever commercial roll-out of low-carbon fertiliser, which will contribute to boosting the UK’s food security, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain, it says. The roll-out is expected to reduce GHG emissions by up to 20%* in the first year alone, at what it says is no extra cost to farmers.

Eight promising fertiliser alternatives will be used across 1,300 hectares in the 2023 growing season, with plans to scale up to a minimum of 4,000 hectares in 2024 across Tesco’s field veg suppliers.

With chemical fertiliser costs rising by as much as 140% over the last year, low-carbon fertilisers could also be a cost-effective alternative for farmers struggling with shortages caused by the war in Ukraine. Six of the eight fertiliser producers will be manufacturing their products in the UK from material including food waste, chicken litter, fire extinguisher waste and algae.

The production of low carbon fertiliser here in the UK will create green jobs and could help reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers. The UK currently imports around 60% of the fertiliser it needs, while UK production has recently been hit by the closure of chemical fertiliser plants. The initiative aims to accelerate uptake and create a roadmap to scaling low carbon alternatives.

Tesco plans to introduce the low carbon alternatives to other produce areas, including wheat and barley, where emissions linked to conventional fertiliser account for more than 60%, as well as grasslands in beef, dairy and lamb supply chains. The first year of the roll-out will produce up to 70,000 tonnes of fresh produce, growing to 200,000 tonnes in 2024. The initiative is one of many innovations Tesco is driving as part of its ambition to reach net zero emissions across its value chain by 2050.

Sarah Bradbury, Group Quality Director at Tesco, said: “Delivering more affordable, sustainable food means finding innovative, new ways to grow basket staples like potatoes, salad vegetables and carrots. Fertilisers are a large source of emissions in farming, but high prices and uncertainty have made it hard for farmers to take advantage of low-carbon alternatives. We hope that by working with our suppliers, our learnings from this roll-out of low carbon fertilisers can prove their potential to cut emissions and demonstrate what it would take to scale up production in the UK. It’s vital we keep costs manageable for farmers facing the most challenging market conditions in a generation and help our customers to eat in a way that’s good for planet and pocket.”

One of the suppliers taking part in the trial is Huntapac, Tesco’s biggest carrot supplier, which has been supplying Tesco for nearly 50 years. It will be using the R-Leaf low carbon fertiliser.

Stephen Shields, Technical Director at Huntapac said: “It’s great to be part of the Tesco field veg trial as we focus on moving away from artificial inputs to something that’s better for the environment. By moving to these new low carbon technologies, we can save money compared to chemical-based fertiliser and at a time when all costs are going up for farmers, any steps that reduce them are ideal.”

Tesco's commitment for nature

The trial will contribute to Tesco’s wider commitment as part of WWF's Retailers' Commitment for Nature to halve the environmental impact of the average shopping basket by 2030 and also inform Tesco’s approach to reducing on farm emissions as part of its wider commitment to reach net zero across its supply chain by 2050.

Two of the fertiliser producers taking part in the trial have both won backing as part of Tesco’s drive to increase and scale innovations in the food sector. CCm won funding and a chance to work with Tesco suppliers as part of the retailer’s Innovation Connections initiative it ran last year with partner WWF.

Crop Intellect, which makes the R-leaf product, won Tesco’s Agri T-Jam competition in 2021, along with a chance to partner with Tesco suppliers and road-test its technology.

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