Adding value to the agricultural supply chain is an ongoing project.
Giving consumers the feel-good factor while choosing how they spend their hard-earned money isn’t easy, but vital if we want to see produce becoming anything more than a commodity.
What rings true with the consumer is ever-changing, and while we strain to follow market trends, the holy grail of adding value is to set yourself out in front and let them determine their own values, around our values.
Quality Meat Scotland, as it is now known, was a real pioneer in the early 1990s, recognising that an assurance scheme for farmers would provide evidence of good practice on farm, drive standards and in turn increase animal welfare, food safety and public trust in agriculture.
This was a world first and has resulted in one of the leading and most recognised protected geographical indicator brands internationally.
However, the use of standards as an indicator of premium quality has been a victim of its own success.
Such was the added value, farm assurance has become a must for many farm businesses not only in Scotland, but around the world. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess.
This has unquestionably driven agricultural practices forward across all sectors, building public trust and steering farmers to be more market-focused.
However, what this has also done is to raise the entire bar of expectation.
This has resulted in world-leading farming methods, which our consumers expect to buy at commodity prices, eroding any price premiums for the added costs of compliance.
The solution latterly for assurance schemes has been to ratchet up standards, hoping to set the brands in a niche, to persuade buyers to pay more.
While this has had some success, it has proved to be far less rewarding than it was historically, with the farmer paying more and more for compliance with less and less reward.
The climate and biodiversity emergencies provide a new way for agriculture to set its values once again around the consumer and drive added value into the food supply chains.
Data and the collation of it from farm to fork will be key to this.
As farmers, we need to know what methods actually see outcomes on the ground and have clear evidence of improvements that we can use to pull consumers back, to pick our products for the “feel-good factor.”
So how do we do it? Arla, the milk co-operative, last month launched its sustainability incentive, which will pay a reward directly to farmers for aligning their businesses towards its net-zero goal.
This scheme builds on-farm data collected over the past three years through its Climate Check programme.
This data is vital to paint a picture for the farmer, so they can direct effort and investment where they will see real and immediate reward through the milk price.
More importantly, however, when consumers ask difficult questions about their food choice and its effect on the environment, clear evidence and more importantly, improvement, can be shown.
This will create fair supply chains which ensure farmers, processors, retailers and consumers are wholly aligned – setting out clear evidence that the actions of consumers’ buying power can have tangible effects, not only from farm to fork, but fork to farm.