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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. 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. Pressure to decarbonise agriculture to meet net zero targets is also likely to result in significant changes to farming practices, whilst farming faces an ever-increasing social challenge due to the lack of young people willing to engage in an industry that 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, adopting new regenerative production methods whilst achieving ever higher quality standards and do this whilst managing ethical challenges relating to the welfare of people and animals. 

We know that our M&S Select Farmers do a great job every day - not just in terms of high production standards, but also in providing wildlife habitats, looking after soil health, maintaining high animal welfare and ensuring that the land is managed for the benefit of future generations. To support this further, we have started a new five year 'Farming with Nature' collaborative programme to help our Select Farmers become more resilient to the biggest environmental challenges they face - spanning climate change, biodiversity, soil health and water usage.

Commitments and targets
We want to lead UK retail in terms of sourcing responsibly produced raw materials farmed to leading production standards – offering our customers good value, high quality products and services. That's why we're expanding our RSPCA Assured range to offer more RSPCA Assured products than any other retailer - including all fresh eggs, pork, farmed salmon and farmed trout, Oakham Gold chicken and milk. On Fresh Produce, we ask all of our UK growers to be LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Marque certified. Building on this we are partnering with LEAF to deliver a series of verified Farming with Nature modules which aim to strengthen outcomes across key environmental areas, from landscapes and nature to water and energy.  

Underpinning our commitment to our Select Farm partners and our M&S Select Farm Sourcing Standards on animal welfare for farmed livestock and fresh produce is our 'Farming with Nature' programme - designed to help our farmers become more resilient to the biggest environmental challenges. The five-year programme will provide farmers with industry-relevant, specialist support and tools to help them become more sustainable and deliver measurable improvements to their businesses, whilst encouraging the uptake of nature-friendly farming practices:

  • As part of the programme, we have established 17 Indicator and Innovation Farms across the UK, spanning fresh produce, dairy, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken and eggs. The farms will be supported by M&S-funded specialist industry partners from The Wildlife Trusts, the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and FERA. The farms will be trialling new ways of farming in harmony with nature and measuring environmental improvements and benefits over time - including testing of novel measurements like E-DNA and remote-sensing approaches - to provide farmers with new insight into the biodiversity on their farms. Learnings from these farms will be shared through knowledge transfer activity and farm events with other M&S Select Farmers and the wider industry. 
  • As part of Farming with Nature, for livestock we are now collecting environmental outcome measures alongside our welfare measures, to measure progress and showcase the great work already being undertaken by British farmers.
  • To support M&S produce growers in delivering the Farming with Nature modules developed in partnership with LEAF and other subject matter experts, we are funding a programme of support that FWAG and The Wildlife Trusts will deliver to growers; from annual grower group events, to farm visits and remote 121 support.
At M&S, we have a dedicated team of agriculture specialists and agronomists responsible for implementing our agriculture policies. In addition to our core 'Farming with Nature' activity, they focus on the following areas to support our M&S Select Farm partners.
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 support degree students at Harper Adams University College which sees the students spend a year-out work placement with M&S working on projects with our agriculture or agronomy teams.

We also provide opportunities for young people to ‘walk the supply chain’ to enable them to better understand the issues and challenges around food production and retail. For example, since 2014 we have sponsored a new category – Young Producer – at the Scottish National Premier Meat Exhibition together with processor, Scotbeef. As part of this event we offer all 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 almost 100 delegates from across our supply base taking part and feedback has been excellent. Find out more about the ALP from one of its participants.

Sharing knowledge and best practice
Identifying solutions to tomorrow's farming challenges is part of the story, but incorporating the knowledge into everyday best practice is critical if we are going to help deliver sustainable supply chains. And, with more than 25,000 farmers and small-holders in our supply base, this is not easy.

Industry engagement is key and we actively engage with the main 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, the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh and the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in Builth Wells. And we routinely support major industry events such as the Oxford Farming Conference and the National Farmers Union Conference.

We also update our M&S Select Farm Sourcing Standards regularly, incorporating new thinking into these updates and broadening the scope of what's covered to drive continuous improvement at farm level.

Finally, to raise the profile of our 'Farming with Nature' 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.

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 have developed specific sustainability measures for chicken, turkey, laying hens, pigs, dairy, beef and lamb, salmon, trout, seabass/bream and shrimp including welfare and environmental measures. These have been rolled out across our supply base and, where appropriate, we are evolving automated methods of data capture to ensure robust and independent outcome measure recording over time.

We will continue to 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.

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 venison, pork, poultry, fish & shellfish, dairy and eggs

Since 2018, we have published our year-on-year performance on these outcome measures and we aim to use this data to shape future production standards and drive a continual improvement culture across our farm supply base.

On Fresh Produce, our Farming with Nature modules are being developed with LEAF and other subject matter experts with an outcome-based approach; which is the direction that the LEAF Marque standard is taking in its development too.  

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.

Our M&S Select Farm Sourcing Standards for farmed livestock and fresh produce 'Farming with Nature' programme rely 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 M&S Select Farm Sourcing Standards.

We work closely with industry experts and scientists to develop our M&S Select Sourcing Standards and 'Farming with Nature' programme and deliver our Plan A goals. We have a long-term partnership with FAI Farms and LEAF 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), Pesticide Action Network (PAN), and WWF and our Farming with Nature partners to ensure our approaches and policies reflect the latest science and stakeholder thinking.

We are being supported by Cranfield University on the delivery of our education programme and have partnered with Harper Adams University College on student placements. 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.