A ‘GLOBAL Farm Metric’ to measure the sustainability of agriculture could help ensure that farmers’ role in tackling climate change is finally recognised.

The work of the coalition to establish just such a standardised approach for measuring farming's environmental impact was the subject a recent TEDx event hosted by the Sustainable Food Trust.

Four years in the making, the 'Global Farm Metric' has been refined to 11 categories of sustainability, including soil, water, biodiversity and nutrient management. These categories contain multiple measures which land managers can carry out on their land and then input into the metric software. A combination of calculations and comparison to major benchmarks would then produce a sustainability score.

Adele Jones of the SFT explained why an internationally recognised framework was needed: “We believe the global farm metric could be a key driver of change, it could be the toolkit for every farmer, government, and company around the world to drive towards more regenerative food and farming systems, but we need to work together to make this happen.”

During the event, HRH Prince of Wales pointed out that grassland potential as a carbon sink has not been properly acknowledged until now: “You cannot manage what you do not measure. Until now, we have not established a harmonised global framework for measuring agricultural sustainability from farm up.

“The development of a common global language for measuring farm sustainability will be crucial if we are to mark our progress beyond COP26 in the countdown to net zero or as close to this as we can get in relation to food production systems.

“We need a food labelling system which empowers citizens in their role as consumers to have the information they need to make informed decision about purchasing food products whose supply chains genuinely reduce emissions and other forms of pollutions, protect biodiversity and protect public health," said HRH. "All this will be possible if we have a harmonised means of measuring farm sustainability at an international level.”

Fellow keynote speaker and Morrison’s chief executive David Potts admitted that price will always be the determining factor in any purchase, but said it was up to supermarkets to ensure they stack their shelves with responsibly sourced food: “Choice often means the balance between price and quality, price and provenance, price and healthier ingredients, but it always comes down to price.

“For quite a while we have witnessed a surge in interest in sustainable choices, but customers don’t feel equipped to make informed choice on some sustainability issues.”

In March, Morrison’s announced that they would only be supplied by net zero carbon farms by 2030 and will be working with their 3000 farmers and growers to produce affordable net zero carbon meat, fruit, vegetables, and eggs.

“This will take away uncertainty and ambiguity for our customers,” added Mr Potts.

NFU president Minette Batters zoned in on the debate surround tree planting: “We are so lucky in this country to have a maritime climate that grows grass when many countries do not have that luxury. Yet we do an outstanding job of demonising the jewel in the crown that we have here.

“The focus on how much carbon we actually have locked down in our grasslands is something that needs exploring, just as much or much more than what will happen if we chose to set x amount of land aside for planting trees.”

She went on to add that if every farmer measured their sustainability impact with a common framework and language then it could form the basis for international trade: “How we trade our agricultural commodities is fundamentally flawed. It doesn’t work and that is because governments across the world are focused on keeping food prices down and making food affordable. Therein lies the problem we face.”