Wednesday, April 24, 2024

McCain embraces regen ag

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Global food company McCain is reimagining the way to grow a potato that is beneficial to the planet and by 2030, will use only regeneratively farmed potatoes. Come the end of this decade, every potato that becomes McCain superfries, bistro fries, potato patties, tasti taters, smiles or home fries, will be from a farm using regenerative agricultural practices.
Potatoes NZ chair Stuart Wright says there was a significant increase in levy money dedicated to R&D under Chris Claridge, pictured.
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The company will implement regenerative agriculture practices across 100% of its 150,000ha of potato growing worldwide.

The transition will restore and protect soil health and quality and look to natural processes to control pests, prevent plant disease and strengthen crops against severe weather events.

McCain chief executive Max Koeune says the covid pandemic put a spotlight squarely on the precarious nature of the company’s global food system.

“The largest challenges we face are related to climate change, it’s estimated that one quarter of manmade carbon emissions come from the production of food and if we have to grow more food to feed more people that will only intensify,” Koeune said.

“If we don’t transform the way we grow food, the whole system is at risk of suffering irreparable damage.”

Potatoes NZ chief executive Chris Claridge says the McCain announcement comes as no surprise.

“We saw McCain starting to move in response to consumer demand,” Claridge said.

“This is a major global food giant driven by its international customers.

“From a PotatoesNZ perspective, it is about the zero carbon 2035 target we have already set, following the clear signal from international consumers.

“If this is what we have to meet, we have to get over the definitions and rules, and get on with it.”

So, what is regenerative agricultural practice for NZ potato growers?

“It’s what McCain wants. It’s pretty straight forward,” he said.

“They won’t make a definition they can’t meet; we know the technical definition is to improve the environment, cultural, social and economic wellbeing.

“I think we are over-analysing (regenerative agriculture), we are hearing the same hype now about regen ag as we did in the 80s about organics.”

Regenerative agriculture calls back to a time when farming was based more on biology than chemistry, with a focus on soil health and quality.

A sustainable farming practice, regenerative agriculture promotes biodiversity, more plant cover on fields throughout the year, minimising disturbances and maximising crop diversity to increase water efficiency, protect against erosion, pump more nutrients into the earth, create greater resilience to droughts and floods, capture more carbon and increase yield and quality per hectare.

“Everybody can argue the semantics of regen ag and of course farmers want detail, but this is customer-driven, a clear indication from the marketplace,” he said.

“It’s not something to be frightened about; we want to grow our industry and our growers are committed to growing a sustainable industry into the future.”

McCain is doing this worldwide, so it is going to be a level playing field and Claridge says it fits neatly into policy for the Government’s nitrate and carbon emissions, biodiversity and freshwater.

“This is a positive for potatoes that are not only good for you, but good for the land,” he said.

“Sustainability is at the heart of what we do as we build a secure and sustainable future for our industry.”

Claridge expects McCain’s move will not be isolated to potatoes.

“When you get big major players doing this, they don’t do it lightly,” he said.

“This is a game-changer for our growers and a game-changer to revolutionise our industry.

“There is real opportunity as a country to embrace this type of initiative to secure our markets worldwide.”

McCain will implement regenerative agriculture on its three farms of the future; the first of which is now operational in Florenceville, with two more planned in different growing regions of the world by 2025.

Koeune says the purpose of the farms is to demonstrate these agricultural practices, supported by technology and innovation, can be implemented at scale and be economically viable for farmers.

“As a global leader in food production, McCain has a responsibility to reimagine the way we grow a potato in a way that is beneficial for both the planet and the communities where we operate,” Koeune said.

“We have to act today to make things better for tomorrow.”

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