Fonterra's Climate Roadmap: Adopting best practice farming

Anne Douglas discusses how good on-farm practices help achieve Fonterra's climate targets

02 May 2024

9 min

#Blog #Sustainability #Global

In November 2023, we announced the launch of Fonterra’s Climate Roadmap: Our strategy towards net zero 2050, outlining Fonterra’s 2030 targets and 2050 ambitions.

In the interview below, we talk to Anne Douglas, Group Director of Farm Source about what actions we’re taking on-farm to meet our targets. Listen as Anne takes us through how our farmers are continuously improving their farming practices to care for the land now, and well into the future. 

Watch the full interview with Anne or read key Q&As from the interview below:

Q&A with Anne Douglas – Group Director of Farm Source

Q: Anne, welcome. Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your role at the co-op?

I'm Anne Douglas, the Group Director of Farm Source. Farm Source is the part of our Co-operative that is all about supporting our farmers. As a co-operative, we're owned by our farmers, and they also run their own farming businesses. Our job in Farm Source is to get alongside our farmers, provide advice, support, reassurance, technical expertise, to help make sure that they're farming to the best of their ability today, and also evolving the way that they're farming to be really successful for generations and contribute to the broader Co-operative.

Q: What is your personal view on sustainability?

I draw a lot of inspiration from our Co-operative purpose – there is a line that talks about goodness for generations and to me, that is just a lovely way to describe what sustainability is all about. We need to make sure that we're using our resources to the best of our ability today but also making sure that we're protecting that for the long term and making sure that the value we're adding back is more than what we're taking out.

It's about our environment. It's about our people. It is about our animals and our land. It's every part of our business, making sure that we are in fact, here for generations. 

Q: Why is it important for Fonterra to have a climate roadmap?

First and foremost, Fonterra is a co-operative. We're really proud of our sustainability credentials today and the reality is that we can continue to improve and do better. If we think about why it’s really important to have a climate roadmap, it's all about our strategic choice to lead in sustainability.

Most of our emissions and our sustainability impact environmentally, comes through our farmers’ businesses and how they're running their farms so, it's really important that we get alongside them. At the end of the day, they love their land, their animals, the people on their farm. All of that really matters to them. And they need to be doing that well today, but also looking at how we can continue to improve into the future and continue to lead in this important space.

Q: Why is it so important to focus on on-farm activities?

It's important that we do think about on-farm activities, largely because if we look at the Co-operative's total emissions footprint, the vast majority of that comes from on-farm. And yes, we are a co-operative, but our farmers do run their own farming businesses and that activity on-farm is where we've got the biggest opportunity to make our improvements.

We're proud of what we've achieved today, and our farmers want to continue to improve. We've had 150 years of being a really proud, innovative dairy co-operative here in New Zealand and we want to continue for another 150 years. On-farm is the biggest opportunity for us and it's an area that our farmers are incredibly passionate about improving as we look to the future.

Q: Are the farmers up for the challenge?

Yes, our farmers are really up for this sustainability challenge. They care deeply about the land, their animals, their environment, their people and they really do think about the impact that they're having. They've had 150 years of working on this land and doing the best they can and the opportunity ahead for them now, is how to get even better.

I was with a farmer last week who is one of our leading, quite progressive farmers. Some might say, he's absolutely gold standard in terms of sustainability, and even he is saying, "How do I get better? What’s the next thing I'm going to go after?" He wants to share his learnings and insights with other farmers, so we can bring every single person along their journey because it really matters.

Q: What are Fonterra's on-farm priorities and what are farmers doing right now?

One of the areas that we're focusing on is around good farming practices. We farm with nature here in New Zealand. Every day we're out there and amongst the elements, responding to the weather around us, working with our soil, working with our really unique biodiversity. And the way that we do that is quite special, it's quite unique. And we're really well-versed in that. What comes with that is some really good depth of understanding about what good farming practices look like.

We've recently made available to all of our farmers a booklet that outlines for them the opportunities they've got to adopt good farming practices onto their farms. It covers the different environments that our farmers might be working in across the country. We're a small country, but quite long and thin and we have quite a range of climatic and soil conditions to deal with.

It's really about helping them know and understand what choices they can make on their farm, what tweaks and practices they might want to change, so they can really make the most of their natural environment in the way that they're farming. 

Q: What are some of the things that farmers could be doing to improve emissions intensity?

To improve carbon intensity on a farm, there's a lot of things that our farmers might be able to do and a lot of it's what they're already doing. They'll be looking at what are they doing with their feed, they'll be looking at how they're optimising use of fertiliser, they'll be considering things like reproductive performance or genetics of the animals. And of course, there's lots of room around novel and new technology.

Q: Can you share some of the innovation that's happening?

I think one of the most important things to remember is that we are a pasture-based farming system so the solutions here in New Zealand might look a little bit different to other parts of the world for the dairy sector. We're really putting our money where our mouth is and invested alongside a number of organisations here in New Zealand and the government and to a joint venture that is doing extensive research into what we can do to mitigate climate impacts and to make sure that we're doing what we can.


Q: Can you explain what farm level reporting is?

We have got data and information down to a farm level, right across New Zealand, across every member of our Co-operative. That is a huge amount of data. That is robust data, it's quality data and a real depth that gives us a lot of information and insight into each farm. It will tell us what their environmental impacts are. It will give us insight into the quality of their milk. It will tell us about what's happening for greenhouse gas emissions at that farm level perspective.

That is quite unique we think around the world and a real strength that we've got in the Co-operative - that ability to collect that data, use that data in a way that we support our farmers, and also promote what we do around the world. 

Q: So, Fonterra has data on every single farm?

Yes, we do. We have this amazing data set across every single farm. And there are two things that we're doing here. One is us being able to produce a report every year for every farm in our Co-operative that shows what their environmental impacts are and where they're at. So, that is a Farm Insights Report. It allows us to understand where our farmers are at, where they're currently tracking, how they're performing. And we look at them across the broad network of our co-operative, and where the opportunities for improvement might lie.

Secondly, we also have what's called a Farm Environment Plan. And that is where we've got a team of dedicated sustainability consultants that go out on-farm, meet with each of our farmers individually and work through their specific farm, mapping that farm, getting a really good understanding of the land and the practices on that land, and really helping inform for that farmer what actions they might be able to take as they move forward.

Q: What advantages does Fonterra have on this journey?

It's really important to start with the fact that as a co-operative, we are already in a leading position in terms of our climate impacts today. We know that we have strong sustainability credentials in the way that we produce our milk. It's great quality milk that comes from this incredible natural environment that we are farming in today, so great soils, great grass, great sunshine, great rain. All of that is very true and real here in New Zealand and our farmers have farmed this land for generations, so they know how to get the most out of that land and really make it work effectively today.

What we also have, is a farming base that is really committed to improvement. They're working hard every day to make sure that they can lift the bar, improve their practices, improve their standards and ultimately improve the impact that they're having to really live up to our aspirations of leading in sustainability.

Q: What does the future look like for dairy?

My future for dairy is one that is here for generations. I am genuinely optimistic and excited about what we can achieve here, as a co-operative with our dairy farmers in New Zealand. Last week, I was with a group of young farmers and one of those farmers was talking to me, that lady was a fifth-generation dairy farmer here in New Zealand. She talked about a future that I could get excited about. One, where she really respected the heritage and the history of her family for generations before her, who is invested in trying to make things better today, but ultimately focused on how she was going to create an amazing future. One where her children and their children and their children again, could continue to do what we do so well, to produce this high-quality nutritious product that we take to the world, to feed a whole lot of people, with something that is just so truly good in every sense of the word.



View Fonterra’s Climate Roadmap: Our strategy towards net zero 2050 below 

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