Silver Fern Farms Committed to Sustainable Farming, Reducing CO2

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by | Aug 3, 2022

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Since its founding in 1948, Silver Fern Farms has served New Zealand as a procurer, processor, marketer, and exporter of premium 100% grass-fed lamb, beef, and venison. Silver Fern Farms exports to more than 60 countries and has supplied the US market with its grass-fed product for four decades. It is committed to sustainability. 

 “Taking care of our emissions is our own responsibility, no one else’s,” says CEO Simon Limmer. “We are not outsourcing our emissions, rather we are recognizing and incentivizing our farmers for their efforts to create farm environments that are better able to capture carbon, increase biodiversity, and support nature-positive food production.” 

About 16,000 cooperative family farmers across New Zealand supply the company with red meat. The company is a founding member, and the only red meat company, to be a signatory to New Zealand’s Climate Leaders Coalition. Signatories are committed to reducing their own emissions and leading the way on climate adaptation and a just transition.

Since the company started its Sustainability Action Plan and carbon reporting journey in 2018, it has successfully implemented the Toitu Envirocare to reduce carbon emissions at its processing operations. After developing an Environmental Management System, it achieved last year Toitu Environmark Diamond Certification, the highest New Zealand-based environmental certification.

Silver Fern Farms has committed to a 1.5-degree science-aligned reduction target to reduce our combined Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 42% by 2030 (from a 2020 base year). In 2023 it will be setting a full Scope 3 emissions target inclusive of livestock emissions.

New Zealand’s grass-based system optimizes natural resources and uses low-intensity farming practices to minimize environmental impact. Farmers utilize a natural abundance of rainwater to grow grass, optimizing livestock growth to match the natural grass growth curve.

What steps has Silver Fern Farms recently taken to achieve those goals and when were they first planned or conceptualized?  

In May 2022, Silver Fern Farms launched its first range of USDA-approved ‘Net Carbon Zero By Nature’ 100% Grass-Fed Angus Beef resulting from a program to incentivize its farmers to invest in and maintain on-farm sequestration including native and riparian planting. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that this is a climate-conscious process for climate-neutral products. 

Farmer education is a vital component of Silver Fern Farms Sustainable Chain of Care. More than 1,500 farmers have directly taken part in ‘Know Your Number’ workshops throughout New Zealand. The premise is that rather than outsourcing its emissions, the company has recognized and incentivized its farmers to create farm environments that are better able to capture carbon, increase biodiversity, and support nature-positive food production.

“Insetting” is key to Silver Fern’s zero carbon methodology, determining how much of the carbon produced is being absorbed by the local environment. New Zealand has a uniquely biodiverse farming environment, with 84 types of on-farm vegetation being identified as supporting carbon sequestration including regenerating native bush, woodlot forests, shelter belts, summer shade and winter animal shelter, and erosion and riparian planting. 

Recognizing that 96% of beef emissions occur on farms, Silver Fern Farms started a program in 2018 to map and measure the sequestration potential from the many types of vegetation present on New Zealand farms. Satellite technology, aided by increasingly sophisticated AI software, has been used to measure on-farm vegetation to within 0.5 of a meter, enabling a calculation of each individual farm’s ability to sequester carbon. 

“New Zealanders naturally have a deep connection to nature and caring for the environment,” says Matt Luxton, strategic programs sales manager for Silver Fern Farms. “Silver Fern Farms’ Net Carbon Zero By Nature range proposes that it is possible to produce great-tasting, nutrient-dense red meat that is better for the planet.” 

What has been the cost to achieve your goals and how has Silver Fern Farms realized a return on its investment?  

“The costs for the Sustainable Chain of Care are simply the costs of doing business and maintaining a social license to operate,”adds Luxton. “Climate change is a given, the impacts are established and currently around us. Farmers have high consciousness and understanding of why sustainable farming practices are necessary. Silver Fern Farms has a clearly articulated pathway and the launch of Net Carbon Beef By Nature in the US is a demonstration of our intent and also our action to have a product in-market at this time when consumers have high awareness and growing preference for Net Carbon Zero products. 

“The company has moved ahead of stating intentions and has been highly proactive to introduce a supply chain of Net Carbon Zero red meat products,” Luxton continues. “The company reported a record annual profit of NZ$103.8 million in the 2021 year, with revenue rising to NZ$2.7 billion.”

Can you explain specific results of those goals and any obstacles to reach them?

  • Carbon reduction: In 2020, a 30% gross reduction on 2005 levels was achieved. A 20% reduction in processing emissions was achieved since 2018. In 2020, reductions amounted to 14,500 tons of CO2e.  
  • Water reduction: In 2020, a 7.7% reduction in water was used per kilo of product produced.  Since 2016, a 30% reduction in water was used per kilo of product produced.
  • Waste reduction: In 2020, over 100 tons of plastic waste were removed permanently from Silver Fern Farms supply chain. Stretch wrap plastic use has been reduced by 51% for export pallets.
  • Energy savings: In 2020, a 1.1% reduction in energy was used per kilo of product produced. Since 2016, a 9.2% reduction in energy was used per kilo of product produced. By 2030, the goal is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from plant operations by 30%.
  • Net Carbon Zero: Silver Fern Farms is in alignment with New Zealand’s adopted target of net zero carbon by 2050.

What are the company’s future goals and how do you plan to reach them?

Under its International Science-Based Targets Initiative, Silver Fern Farms will reduce its scope 1 and 2 emissions from its processing by 42% in 2030 (from a 2020 base year) and limit warming to 1.5 degrees. In 2023, it will set a full Scope 3 emissions target including livestock emissions. 

The Initiative will reduce emissions throughout Silver Fern Farms’ supply chain by decarbonizing its main energy use to heat water and transition to renewable sources of energy. Silver Fern Farms has a predominant supply of renewable energy in New Zealand and its process heat decarbonization path is strongly aligned to its supply of green energy. 

Under its Sustainability Action Plan commitments, Silver Fern Farms will have zero coal usage by 2030, ahead of government targets, and cut in half its emissions from coal over the next two years. 

In 2022, the company secured government funding through the Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority to enable Silver Fern Farms to phase out their six remaining coal plants and replace them with a renewable energy network connected to New Zealand’s national grid, of which 84 percent is produced from renewable source, principally hydro, also geothermal, wind and bioenergy. The company will fully eliminate coal as a fuel in favor of wood chips by 2030 — well ahead of the government’s deadline to phase out coal boilers by 2037. 

With a regenerative future, Silver Fern Farms is committed to supporting a holistic approach to farming. The company is underpinning its approach on eight principles to help Silver Fern Farms meet consumer expectations for premium quality, sustainably grown red meat.

These eight principles include:

  • minimizing soil disturbance
  • optimizing biodiversity
  • managing livestock grazing practices
  • protecting and regenerating soil health
  • optimizing animal welfare
  • nurturing farming communities
  • protecting and enhancing the natural environment 
  • reducing carbon footprint

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