Farming for the Future

During the next fifteen to twenty years, the global population will continue to rise, placing unprecedented pressures on the supply and demand for the global food system. An increase in the more affluent middle classes will further impact the dynamic as a more western diet is sought around the globe. Competition for land, water and energy will intensify, compounded by the impacts of climate change which will become increasingly apparent with greater volatility in weather resulting in erratic crop yields. Decreasing oil supplies will increase energy costs, impact on the availability and cost of man-made fertilisers and negatively impact on farming practices accepted as the norm today. At the same time, farming faces an ever increasing social challenge due to the lack of young people willing to engage in an industry which is seen as challenging with low rewards.

This combination of factors presents a huge challenge to the farming industry and to society at large. Farmers and growers must become more technically efficient, increasing output whilst achieving ever higher quality standards and do this in an environment where cost control will be essential and environmental impact minimised, whilst managing ethical challenges relating to the welfare of people and animals.

We’ve developed our M&S Farming for the Future programme to help farmers address the challenges, identify opportunities for improvement and create a sustainable supply chain that can continue to deliver quality and innovation for the long term. We recognise that we need to work in partnership with our farmers and growers to be their customer of choice and to develop innovative supply chain relationships that secure the high quality raw materials to continue delivering our customers the quality food offer they expect. We have a sister programme – Forever Fish – to support fisheries and fish farms in our supply base.

Commitments and targets
We want to lead UK retail in terms of sourcing sustainably produced raw materials farmed to leading production standards – offering our customers good value, high quality products and services.

We are committed to producing our products with integrity, ensuring that our key sustainability hotspots are managed in order to continually improve the way that produce and protein are produced.

Farming for the Future is about us helping the farmers and growers in our supply base address the challenges ahead by finding opportunities to improve efficiency, environmental performance and ethical practice. This will make their businesses more resilient and profitable, ensuring that they can continue to deliver quality and innovation for the long term whilst reducing their impact on the world around them. In turn, this delivers security of supply for M&S.

Farming for the Future is aligned with our core values of Inspiration, Innovation, Integrity and In Touch and has been orientated around four strategic themes which provide a framework for action:

Efficiency Because farmers and growers that operate at a high level of technical efficiency will be more profitable, use fewer inputs for the same or higher levels of output, and will be more carbon efficient. 
Environment Because farmers and growers need to minimise their impact on the environment in terms of their use of soil, water, pesticides and energy and work to enhance biodiversity through appropriate environmental management. 
Ethical Practice Because farmers and growers need to act ethically in the way that they run their businesses, treat their employees and neighbours and look after any animals in their care, ensuring high standards of welfare at all times. 
Education Because there are not enough young people coming into the agriculture industry and so we need to play our part in encouraging more people to consider it as a career option and to help develop those already in the industry so that they can become the leaders of the future. 
At M&S we have a dedicated team of agriculture specialists and agronomists responsible for delivering the programme and implementing our agriculture policies. Launched in 2010, we’ve since invested over £3.5 million into sustainability initiatives in the farming sector through this programme and we are committed to continuing these initiatives in the years ahead.

Our M&S Farming for the Future programme is industry recognised and supported by the UK’s Farming Organisations – it has also been recognised externally and was recently a finalist in BITC’s Samworth Brothers Rural Action Award

Summary progress is reported through our independently assured Plan A Report on an annual basis and on this website. 

Identifying and tackling key sustainability hotspots within our farming supply chains
Identifying hotspots by sector
Agriculture is a diverse industry and the issues faced by one sector (e.g. produce, dairy, beef and sheep, etc) are often very different to those faced by another. We have been working closely with suppliers, farmers and growers, industry advisors and specialist consultants to identify these key issues by sector so that we can engage with the producers involved and develop prioritised and targeted plans to address them.

During 2014/15, we were supported by a Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) Origin Green Ambassador and a number of other industry experts to identify our key sustainability hotspots. This work included a comprehensive review of our Indicator Farms activity to date (see below) and dialogue with farmers and growers. This resulted in the following hotspots being identified:

 ProduceBeef & SheepDairy Poultry Pigs 
  • Water use
  • Energy consumption
  • Pesticide & fertiliser use
  • Soil management
  • Training / people
  • Nutrition
  • Grassland management
  • Fertility & health
  • Soils & nutrients
  • Water & environment
  • Supply chain structure & producer engagement
  • Feed
  • Animal welfare
  • Environment
  • Ethical / labour standards
  • Carbon

  • Feed
  • Animal welfare
  • Energy consumption
  • Litter quality
  • Heating / ventilation
  • Animal health
  • Water quality
  • Outcome scores (tail docking, bruising)
  • Slurry disposalFeed
Identifying these hotspots has identified where our focus should be moving forward. It has also given clarity to where we are able to influence behaviour and practice and the areas where this is much harder. 

Where solutions already exist to key challenges we incorporate best practice into our baseline standards and Codes of Practice to ensure that all our raw materials are sourced to these requirements e.g. our requirement for investment in rubber matting in our milk parlours to minimise stress on dairy cows.

Where the existing science is lacking and there is a need to find new solutions, we work with our producers, scientists and industry experts to undertake rigorous, scientific, and commercially relevant trials and process-led design projects to develop effective approaches that are efficient, ethical and environmentally sound.

Indicator Farms
A key part of our M&S Farming for the Future activity is our Indicator Farms programme. We work closely with a small number of farmers and growers across a broad range of sectors. We do this to understand the specific challenges that they face and to identify new approaches that are practical and will help mitigate sustainability challenges in their sector.

We have a network of Indicator Farms which we’re actively supporting in making changes to their businesses to drive sustainability. We’ve recently used our Indicator Farms to establish baseline data and this informed our hotspots analysis (see above).

As a result, we’ve re-focused our activity to ensure it is more closely aligned to the specific needs and challenges of that sector as follows:

  • Produce – we have 15 Indicator Farms in the produce sector. we’re continuing to monitor key sustainability indicators and specific projects have been established to address key challenges. For example, we’ve set up trials to look at innovative ways of attracting pollinators.
  • Beef and sheep – we have 45 Indicator Farms across our beef and sheep supply base in the UK and Republic of Ireland. These farms are collecting data which is being externally benchmarked by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
  • Dairy – all the farmers in our dedicated fresh milk pool are Indicator Farms. These farms undertake benchmarking for health and welfare, farm standards, carbon emissions and wider sustainability, with the support of a specialist veterinary surgeon, a nutritionist and our suppliers. A number of workshops are held during the year to tackle hotspot issues and provide advice and examples of best practice.
  • Poultry – we have 4 Indicator Farms in the poultry sector. These farms collect data and benchmark this to provide guidance for improvement opportunities as well as undertaking trials to establish best practice in key areas. Examples of this work include trialling new feed stuffs, understanding the interactions between breed, feeds and production systems, etc 
  • Pigs – we have 4 Indicator Farms across our pork supply base. These farms monitor data and benchmark performance as well as undertaking specific trials to address key hotspots.
We share lessons learned from our Indicator Farms programme through knowledge transfer activity (see below). 

Building capacity throughout the M&S supply base and strengthening future skills in the agricultural industry through educational and engagement activities
Educational activity
To help encourage young people into the agricultural industry, and to support the development of those already in it, we have set up an education programme. This was developed collaboratively with our suppliers and aims to equip individuals with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience they need at several stages of their agricultural careers.

We are working with colleges, supporting apprenticeships and are offering bursaries, work placements and study scholarships too. So far over 200 young people have benefited from this investment in their future. For example, we are supporting a degree student at Harper Adams University College, with a scholarship in partnerships with Rabobank. This will see the student spend their year-out work placement with M&S working on projects with our agriculture or agronomy teams.

We also provide opportunities for students to ‘walk the supply chain’ to enable them to better understand the issues and challenges around food production and retail. For example, in 2014 we sponsored a new category – Young Producer – at the Scottish National Premier Meat Exhibition together with processor, Scottbeef. As part of this event we offered all 36 entrants the opportunity to follow a carcass from producer to retailer. 

In 2013, we developed a unique executive education programme – the M&S Agricultural Leadership Programme – in association with Cranfield University School of Management. This five-day programme sees high potential young people learn about leadership, sustainability and supply chain management. So far the programme has had 55 delegates from across our supply base taking part and feedback has been excellent. Find out more about the ALP from one of its recent participants.

Sharing knowledge and best practice
All knowledge gained through the Farming for the Future programme of activities is shared with our supply base of more than 25,000 farms and the wider industry.

We use our producer meetings, supplier exchange website (our online farming information portal) and industry engagement to help support dissemination of new thinking and the uptake of new techniques. We also produce a dedicated newsletter and moving forward it is our intention to publish sector specific newsletters twice a year alongside our Farming for the Future Annual Report.

We actively engage with the key sector influencers and government (including devolved administrations) on sustainability and industry issues. We have a programme of meetings covering the farming unions, the sector and devolved levy bodies, the key welfare NGOs (RSPCA, CIWF & RSPB) and we meet regularly with scientists and researchers from around the world.

We also continually engage with the wider industry through direct contact and via support of industry initiatives. In any given year we attend a number of major regional agricultural shows, such as the Balmoral Show in Belfast and the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in Builth Wells. And we routinely support major industry events such as the Farmers Weekly Awards and the National Farming Union Conference.

To raise the profile of our Farming for the Future activity we also make use of strategic sponsorship opportunities. For example, we support the LEAF Open Farm Sunday programme and the Prince’s Countryside Fund.

Farming for the Future Awards
We developed an awards scheme for M&S producers and suppliers to encourage the sharing of best practice and to highlight the benefits of sustainability. 

The awards have been running since 2007 and attract high quality entries from around the world and there are opportunities for regional winners and an overall overseas winner. 

We launch the awards in our supply base at the beginning of the year with shortlisting completed in March and winners are announced at the regional agricultural shows during the summer.

Monitoring and measuring our performance through sustainability outcome measures
Outcome-based measures
In recent years there has been a shift away from focusing on farming systems and input standards towards also measuring and seeking to improve the impact of supply chains on the environment, ethics (for people and animals) and economic elements of a production system.

We are currently developing these sustainability outcome measures and we will use this information, alongside the latest science, to better understand the challenges we are facing together with our suppliers. This outcomes-based approach will allow farmers to pioneer their own solutions and innovations to make progress. This flexibility and creativity is crucial for tackling some of the long-standing challenges to sustainable food production.

We have developed specific sustainability measures for chicken, turkey, laying hens, pigs, dairy, beef and lamb, salmon, trout and seabass/bream and shrimp including welfare measures. These are in the process of being rolled out across our supply base. We’re currently working with our partners to develop automated methods of data capture to ensure robust and independent outcome measure recording over time. 

In 2017, we began to report on a number of key species-specific animal health and welfare measures on the following pages: beef, lamb and venisonporkpoultry, fish & shellfish, dairy and eggs

We will publish our year-on-year performance against a more comprehensive set of outcome measures from 2018. We aim to use this data to shape future production standards and drive a continual improvement culture across our farm supply base.
Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.

Our M&S Farming for the Future programme relies on relationships with a large number of external stakeholders, both in the delivery of activity and the shaping of our focus.

We work with producers and processors who share our commitment to sustainable sourcing and adhere to the requirements of our Codes of Practice. 

We work closely with industry experts and scientists to develop our Farming for the Future programme and deliver our Plan A goals. We have a long-term partnership with FAI Farms, who provide sustainability knowledge and direction and are responsible for managing our independent data collection and supply chain research.

In addition, we liaise regularly with centres of excellence in sustainability science and agriculture and with a number of third sector organisations such as RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), Humane Slaughter Association (HSA), Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), Pesticide Action Network (PAN), and WWF to ensure our approaches and policies reflect the latest science and stakeholder thinking.

We work closely with ADAS, the SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) to provide independent consultancy to our Indicator Farms programme, with RSPB on sustainable game sourcing and upland moor management and with a number of other third sector and government organisations. We are being supported by Cranfield University on the delivery of our education programme and have partnered with Rabobank and Harper Adams University College on a scholarship. We regularly consult the UK livestock levy boards (QMS, EBLEX, HCC, BEPEX) along with the Farming Unions across the UK as part of our wider industry engagement activity.

Key documents