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Norfolk growers rise to 'greener' potato crisp challenge

PUBLISHED: 11:16 05 March 2011

A group of farmers in Norfolk has risen to the challenge to grow "greener" potatoes for Walkers Crisps.

The “50 in 5” drive has moved into top gear, said PepsiCo’s agricultural sustainability manager Mark Pettigrew as he outlined the ambitious project to halve the carbon footprint of crisp production in five years.

He told about 60 growers at Potato Council’s first storage forum at Sutton Bridge about PepsiCo’s “Path to Zero” project in Europe. “We want to get fossil-fuel free, reduce out water usage, and use as much renewable energy as we can,” he said.

PepsiCo took large volumes of potatoes from the eastern counties for the world’s largest potato crisp factory at Leicester. “We’re passionate about growing. We realise that agricultural products are a very important part of what we do and we started measuring our carbon footprint about three years ago.”

Mr Pettigrew, who has been with the company for 35 years, said that initial life cycle analysis of the carbon footprint was a bit of a shock. “We realised that 17pc of that carbon footprint came from potato production with another 17pc from the sunflower oil used to fry our crisps.”

After more research, a baseline figure for the reduction programme was established. “Our footprint came to 110kg per tonne of potatoes – pesticides 1pc, fertiliser production 25pc, mechanical operations 20pc, field emissions 26pc, storage 15pc, washing 4pc, and distribution 9pc.”

His team was working with farmers including North Norfolk Potato Growers to implement the “50 in 5” strategy. This year, about 100 crops across the main growing regions will be monitored as part of the process.

He told growers that PepsiCo has been working to develop a practical guide for farmers and growers, hence the Cool Farm Tool. This will freely available as part of the company’s “green” strategy.

“We want to reduce by our footprint by 50pc within five years. We are measuring the carbon or carbon dioxide per tonne of raw potato and the applied and rainfall per tonne of raw potato.”

“It measures what you’re doing in store, as well as farm energy, fertiliser and believe you me, you can start to look at what you’re doing. We’ve started to put this into every Walkers’ contract, there’s a carbon management plan.”

Mr Pettigrew, who started as a stores’ manager looking after 30,000 tonnes of potatoes for the former Smith’s Crisp factory at Great Yarmouth, said that FEC Energy was asked to conduct an energy audit of stores.

“It concluded that Walkers has got some good stores and some very good growers. We could still identify energy reductions of between 10 and 20pc at most stores. I really encourage everyone to do because energy savings can be made,” he added.

Mr Pettigrew said that an individual store meter cost about £350, and £1,000 when fitted. “This can give real time monitoring on a laptop. We can monitor some of our own stores in China and Russia. You can even see if the fans have been left on!

“We know that by attention to detail, getting better yields, using better varieties, there’s huge potential to reduce that carbon footprint and reducing the amount of waste. We’re optimistic that we will get well down that track.

“You can actually increase your yields by 10 to 20pc and we’ve modelled it. If you can do that, it is a business case and reduces the carbon footprint. It is about knowing what you’re doing. The ‘50 and 5’ is a very aggressive challenge. It concentrates the mind and we’ve placed a stake in the ground,” he said.

PepsiCo planned to sponsor some PhD engineering students to design a potato store out of sustainable or green materials and then run in a more sustainable way.

■ The Cool Farm Tool, developed by John Hillier, of the University of Aberdeen, with the backing of Unilever and 15 other companies, is available on the web and can be downloaded for free.

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