NERC-supported app wins awards for taking sustainable agriculture to scale

21 January 2015

A NERC-supported app to support sustainable agriculture has received several prestigious accolades and is now expanding to include water and biodiversity among the metrics it measures.

Nitrogen fertiliser being scattered by a tractor

The Cool Farm Tool has been successfully used by farmers of all sizes and types across the world to understand the carbon footprint of their production systems and adapt management to improve their performance, from smallholder cotton and coffee farmers in India and Kenya to egg and potato producers in the Unites States and United Kingdom.

Currently an online greenhouse gas calculator for agriculture, in response to industry needs, the Cool Farm Tool is now being extended to include water and biodiversity. The new metrics are expected online in the second half of this year and are designed in keeping with the Cool Farm Tool approach of being easy to administer and management relevant for farmers, while using best-available science.

The app was recently awarded the Oxford Farming Conference / Royal Agricultural Society of England Practice with Science Award and, just a few weeks earlier, the University of Aberdeen (where the Cool Farm Tool was developed) was ranked top in the UK in the 'Agriculture, Veterinary & Food Science' category, with the Cool Farm Tool receiving special mention in the announcement.

In both cases, the tool was recognised for closing the gap between the complex science of agricultural environmental impacts assessments and what farmers and supply chain managers need to know to make more informed on-farm decisions.

"I am delighted to accept this award on behalf of the Cool Farm Alliance," Dr Jon Hillier said at the conference awards ceremony. Dr Hillier, a NERC knowledge exchange fellow at the University of Aberdeen, is one of the main developers of the tool and current chair of the Cool Farm Alliance science committee.

"The Cool Farm Tool today is the product of a multi-sector collaboration over several years to deliver science-based environmental decision support to farmers," Dr Hillier said.

The new recognition comes as the Cool Farm Tool moves into its new legal home, the Cool Farm Alliance, a community interest company registered in the UK and incorporated in June 2014 (the project was formerly called the Cool Farm Institute).

Along with a new home, the Cool Farm Alliance announces the addition of seven new members: McCain Foods, Soil & More, Kellogg, Borealis, Solidaridad, EuroChem and the German Research Centre for Geosciences.

Richard Burkinshaw, senior sustainability manager and origins project manager at Kellogg Company, said:

"We find the Cool Farm Tool very useful, especially in identifying drivers, modelling and understanding pathways to improvements. Its transparency makes it much better than simply getting a figure as a result. The way you can play around with options and see what difference the changes will make in the overall result makes it a very valuable and engaging tool with an ongoing role."

Tobias Bandel, managing partner of Soil & More International, said:

"As a sustainability consultancy, we believe in offering our clients services which combine scientific robustness with pragmatism. The Cool Farm Tool has been invaluable for us in the past and the recent developments (such as the new online version) encouraged us to strengthen our relationship even further."

Jan Kees Vis, global director, sustainable sourcing development at Unilever, said:

"The Cool Farm Tool brings practical benefits for farmers, to help reduce carbon emissions on their farms. The aim is that more and more companies in the agricultural sector start using this tool, so that we can see real industry transformation."

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1. The tool is free to use for individual farmers and with a chargeable fee for commercial or organisational use. The tool and fee details can be accessed at the Cool Farm Tool website - external link.

2. The web tool is based on an Excel model originally created by the University of Aberdeen in partnership with Unilever and the Sustainable Food Lab. The Cool Farm Tool has the backing and support of leading academics and non-governmental organisations working on sustainability in agriculture. More information about the institute - including case studies - is available on the Cool Farm Tool website.

3. The sustainable management of agricultural systems is one of defining challenges of the 21st century, with greenhouse gas emissions a major priority for action with governments and businesses. Recent studies estimate that agriculture contributes up to 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the main source of emissions in food supply chains. The news comes as other major agri-food businesses are announcing investments in smart technology, big data and software to target improvements in resource efficiency, productivity and climate resilience.

4. McCain Foods is rolling out the implementation of the Cool Farm Tool in all their agricultural regions across eleven countries, and modelling at least 50 representative farmers around the world. To date, Unilever has collected 413 assessments, including data from 6,529 farms across 46 countries, and expects to grow the programme to 15,000 farm assessments annually as part of the metric reporting requirements for their Sustainable Agriculture Code.

5. Unilever, the University of Aberdeen and the Sustainable Food Lab (a global sustainable food network) collaborated to develop and pilot the original spreadsheet calculator. The online tool has been developed by Best Foot Forward / Anthesis Group, with project management provided by the Sustainable Food Lab.