Last Wednesday, 3 June, a group of senior business leaders from the food & drink sector took part in a Prince’s Seeing is Believing visit, facilitated by Dairy Crest, to highlight the food industry’s role in water stewardship and to explore what business can do about this key issue.
The visit was led by Neil Khandke, Group Technical and Compliance Director, Dairy Crest and involved delegates from leading food, drink and retail businesses including Marks & Spencer, Diageo and Sainsbury’s.
Participants heard from the Severn Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency on some of the specific issues England’s rivers are facing and why it is important for business to act.
Commenting at the event, Tony Bostock, Chief Executive, Severn Rivers Trust said:
“Taking action on water stewardship not only makes environmental sense, but business sense for the agricultural sector. 2.2 million tons of topsoil deposit in UK rivers every year costing farms £9 million per year in lost production. Using aerial photography the Severn Rivers Trust calculated one farmer had lost £18,000 from just 1 field in 1 year.”
During the visit, which was partly held at Priory Farm in Gloucestershire, Dairy Crest shared how they are working directly with their supplying farms through a unique initiative called WaterWell which enables farmers to measure, monitor and minimise water use. Dairy Crest Farm Business Controller Steve Harris explained the impact of the scheme:
“In just two years Dairy Crest has engaged 20% of our 1,050 supplying farmers in the WaterWell initiative, with some farms seeing a financial return in as little as 12 months. With up to 75% of farms not aware of the benefits of monitoring their water use, WaterWell helps them to start measuring and identifying areas to make savings and investments. Through the WaterWell initiative Dairy Crest has worked in partnership with our farmers, to find a significant range between the maximum and minimum litres of water used to produce a litre of milk, and consequently been able to address this through targeted action.”
With 62% of the food consumed in the UK reliant on British farms and farmers it is essential that the health of the land is a top priority for the food and drink sector.
Dairy Crest also explained how two major investments at their sites in Davidstow and Severnside are helping the company to address its water usage within its direct operations. These multi million pound investments will ensure high levels of recycling of water within each processing site, reducing freshwater abstraction volumes and costs as well as ensuring a high level of environmental protection of local water courses.
Neil Khandke closed the day by calling on all delegates to go back to their own businesses to build upon existing activities and lead the way towards a more sustainable industry:
“It is clear that the issues around water stewardship facing the food and drink sector are hugely complex and there is no silver bullet solution. Regulation must play its part, but is not the answer to the multitude of challenges facing the sector. However the open and honest discussions today prove that there is drive and determination to address these issues through greater collaboration within the sector. I would call upon all businesses to identify their water related risks and opportunities, and assess actions to be taken individually and collaboratively.”