Going circular

The need for livestock production to become more sustainable has never been more pressing. Technical Development Manager Alison Ewing explains how ForFarmers is contributing

Dairy Nutrition
Alison Ewing feed barrier

Buyers of agricultural products are increasingly asking farmers to demonstrate their efforts towards reducing emissions and improving the overall sustainability of production. This is particularly the case for the dairy sector with milk buyers rewarding producers for sustainability initiatives.

“As a business ForFarmers agrees that we should all be playing our part to improve sustainability and that agriculture also has a huge opportunity to be part of the solution,” says Technical Manager Alison Ewing.

Increasing global demand for food needs to be met in a sustainable way, she explains. “Animals have a key role in a circular agri-food system which is why ForFarmers is leading in the development of circular agriculture. Our approach, which is set out in our Strategy 2025, is based on the principle of transforming low value materials into high quality food with no waste of resources and zero pollution.”

Use of soy in livestock feed is one particular area which has received a lot of attention. “The crop is grown in several areas of the world, particularly South America, where there is well publicised concern about the environmental and social impact of its production.

“Eliminating soya from the diet may on the surface appear to be an answer but we mustn’t forget that it is an extremely valuable and efficient source of nutrition too. Replacements and their impact on performance therefore need careful consideration to ensure they offer genuine savings.” In the meantime, reduction or use of sustainably sourced soy via responsible chains of supply already in place from particular regions is another option.

“At ForFarmers we ensure that 100% of the soy bean meal used in our ruminant feed, both compound and blends, and that which is supplied by our DML straights department is covered by responsibly sourced soya certificates,” explains Alison. “A proportion of the certificates purchased for our retail customers in the UK include a 20 year cut-off date which assures that the land used to produce soy has not been deforested in the last 20 years.

“This covers all the soy we source from South America which was 71% in 2022.” Claims from the owner of the land are verified by using satellite imagery – comparing current images with those from 2000.

“There is an industry commitment, called the UK Soy Manifesto, to ensure that all physical shipments of soy to the UK are verified deforestation and conversion free by 2025 at the latest. As members of the Agricultural Industries Confederation, we are fully behind this and it’s great to see progress towards the goal thanks to a coordinated effort,” she adds.

“Those determined to remove soy from the diet should consider our non-soya ranges and especially our Optima Footprint dairy products. This range is formulated without soya, soya hulls or soya oil and to its true digestible protein level, rather than crude protein, helping to decrease excess nitrogen to the dairy cow. Many customers have been very pleased with the results and subsequent rewards from their milk buyers.

“As well as the work on soy we are also committed to using RSPO certified palm oil and are also keenly exploring alternative protein sources, partnering in research into the use of insect and algae protein, strengthening our commitment to European grown protein and to precision feeding of amino acids.

Cow at feed barrier 2
Lorry Fleet

Efficiency gains

“Our manufacturing, engineering and logistics teams are working hard on increasing energy efficiency and use of renewables,” continues Alison. “We have three solar projects currently underway at three of our mills. Two of those will produce enough electricity to run the mill so are particularly significant.

“Across the business we are identifying where energy savings can be made and upgrading boilers and mill equipment to increase efficiency. With pressing being the most energy intensive part of production we are continually looking for the best formulation and process that promises both efficiency and quality.”

The efficiency drive also extends to transport, she says. “We are investigating electric vehicles but also looking at other alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas, liquified natural gas, hydrogen and hydro-treated vegetable oil. These could all offer significant savings in the future, but in the meantime we are also investing in driver training to increase efficiency. A project looking at the effect of reduced idling across 10 vehicles demonstrated a reduction of 200 litres of diesel which is 536kg of carbon dioxide. That’s a huge saving and a relatively simple way to bring immediate improvements while we assess longer term options.”


Enabling farmer customers to make savings and ensure best performance of their dairy animals and youngstock is also of course a large part of ForFarmers’ remit, concludes Alison. “Our Optifeed rationing programme is central to this. By building CO2 equivalent emission ‘nutrient’ numbers into our formulation system and translating this into the Optifeed package we can also help our customers work on ways to reduce their carbon footprint, whilst balancing their rations for optimal performance.

“This may be through increasing production and use of highquality home-grown forage, as well exploring ways to manage how the total feeds we supply ferment in a cow’s rumen, with the goal of reducing methane emissions and overall carbon footprint.

“Our account managers are keen to support customers with this and help them achieve their goals. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like to discuss your unique situation and how we can help.”

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