How has Kerry's Evolve sustainability program evolved?

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

From left: Pat Murphy, CEO Kerry Dairy; William Dennehy, Kerry Agribusiness demonstration farmer; Sibeal Bird, sustainability lead at Kerry; James O'Connell, general manager, Kerry Agribusiness; Diarmuid Cremin, winner of Kerry Agribusiness awards. Image: Kerry
From left: Pat Murphy, CEO Kerry Dairy; William Dennehy, Kerry Agribusiness demonstration farmer; Sibeal Bird, sustainability lead at Kerry; James O'Connell, general manager, Kerry Agribusiness; Diarmuid Cremin, winner of Kerry Agribusiness awards. Image: Kerry

Related tags Dairy farming Sustainability Fertilizer

We catch up with Kerry Dairy Ireland CEO on the progress made since the program - designed to financially-reward farmers for taking up sustainable on-farm actions - was first launched.

In February 2022, Kerry Group introduced Evolve, a sustainability program designed to support the Group’s science-based emissions reduction targets. Participation is voluntary, though Kerry tells us 94% of its farms (close to 3,000) have now benefitted from the various financial incentives and knowledge-sharing activities it offers.

What actions farmers take as part of the program would depend on their particular circumstances. These actions are grouped across the following categories: biodiversity, energy use efficiency, knowledge transfer, grass management, herd health, production efficiency, and soil and fertilizer management. For example, farmers can receive €100 per herd if they take part in the grass management program, or €10 per ton of low protein feed used, or €5 per ton of lime used. More information is available from the 2023 booklet​, which is updated annually. Participating in so-called knowledge-transfer events is also covered – producers get €50 per event to attend development events, or can complete a Sustainable Dairy Development course run in partnership with University College Cork for free.

The potential maximum award is €2,000 for the average herd, we were told.

Kerry claims that since the program launched, there has been a three-fold increase in tons of protected urea applied and 6,000Ha of soils have been lime-treated and there's been generally a 'strong uptake' in the area of lower emissions fertilizer. Farmers have also planted additional trees to farmland around Ireland, with the aim to plant 200,000 new trees by 2025.

Pat Murphy, CEO of Kerry Dairy Ireland, told DairyReporter that the Evolve program was launched ‘to remove the barriers’ to adopting on-farm sustainable measures. “There can be a hesitancy to make changes to traditional farm practices,” Murphy told us. “Having such a diverse range of sustainable actions is important to ensure the program is inclusive of our whole supplier base as each farming business is unique in its operations. Numerous factors can influence the day-to-day workings of a farm, so it is important to ensure the Evolve programme is flexible in its nature.”

Participation in the Evolve program is voluntary and the program is updated annually to include new actions or initiatives or revise the incentives available to farmers. It's then up to suppliers to decide which actions to implement on their farms to best suit their farming businesses. 

“We have partnered with multiple local and national organisations to assist suppliers in accessing support, making the process of reporting as streamlined as possible,” Murphy added. “Emissions are calculated in conjunction with the SDAS scheme whereby suppliers are required to complete a sustainability report to determine the carbon intensity of their farm. This assessment occurs every 18 months and gives a carbon intensity figure in KG CO2 per KG FPCM.”

Of course, the program forms part of Kerry’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its value chain, i.e. scope 3. The co-op has an approved science-based target of 30% reduction in scope 3 emissions intensity by 2030, versus a 2017 base year. The processor reported its scope 3 emissions had been reduced 4% in 2022, highlighting a long road ahead. “Scope 3 emissions account for 95% of our total emissions profile and are the most challenging to address,” Murphy edmitted. “The largest impact comes from the raw materials we purchase and that within this category, dairy makes up a significant proportion of these emissions.

“As a result, we are focused on taking immediate action in this value chain, as we build out our roadmap across other raw materials. The Evolve program is the first step in our wider strategy and we have seen strong engagement across numerous stakeholders with the programme to date.”

Meanwhile, Kerry is also targeting 55% carbon reduction by 2030, including moving to renewable electricity by 2025 and achieving 15% reduction in water intensity by 2025.

The processor invested an initial €6m to launch Evolve. While manufacturers' sustainability actions are increasingly scrutinized by consumers, Murphy insisted that Kerry's grass-fed dairy products have long been perceived as ‘premium’ and ‘natural’. “There is a perception amongst consumers that grass-fed cows living in a more natural environment are healthier and often produce better quality milk," he told us. "As a result, consumers believe grass-fed dairy is a premium and natural product and are generally willing to pay more for grass fed dairy. It is well-established that Irish dairy is some of the most sustainable in the world due to it being a predominantly pasture based system and therefore offers a unique solution in providing a source of high-quality sustainable nutrition to consumers as well as an opportunity for farmers to expand their sustainable milk production volumes to support this new growing demand.”

“With this in mind, communication of the nutritional and environmental benefits of grass-fed dairy has increased significantly in recent years, and this trend shows little signs of slowing down. There has been a 75% year-on-year growth of on-pack carbon emission communication in dairy products between 2020 and 2021 [Source: Top 10 Trends 2022: Dairy. Innova Market Insights, 2022]​ and as the demand for sustainable dairy grows, so will its promotion across markets,“ Murphy concluded.

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