How does beer help protect the climate?

We talk to Karolina Tarnawska, Procurement Director of Grupa Żywiec SA about the role of sustainability in the operations of breweries and why it is important to achieve climate neutrality by 2040.

What is sustainability for Grupa Żywiec in practice?
Good beer means the best natural ingredients and clean water. The pandemic has shown how much of a challenge in the long run the climate crisis is, together with the irreversibility of the changes it brings. To continue functioning in our world, we must learn to develop while respecting the resources and the natural environment. Without it, there will be no environment, and consequently no beer. For this reason, sustainability is one of the business goals of Grupa Żywiec, which allows for long-term development in respect for the environment and people. In recent years, we have been able to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in production and distribution while sustainable raw materials are a large part of our ingredients.

However, we are going even further, one of the elements of the strategy for the coming years is climate neutrality throughout the value chain by 2040. That is why, for many years, we have been undertaking a number of activities related to the implementation of this goal. We encourage our consumers to return returnable bottles, which contributes significantly to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Today, the beer industry in Poland is the sector in which reusable packaging is most commonly used. Together with Żywiec Zdrój, we have established the Coalition “We care about water”, whose aim is to protect the water resources of the Żywiec Beskids.

Sustainability is part of our business. Therefore, when responding to current challenges we always try to take into account not only economic but also environmental and social aspects. During the lockdown we supported the catering sector, collecting 35,000 unsold barrels of beer from restaurant owners. However, in order not to discharge it as sewage we decided to process it into biogas which is a natural green source of energy, being a product of anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. Thanks to such actions nothing was wasted, and the reuse of beer as a raw material for biogas reduced CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. We are glad that we have finally helped not only the catering industry, but also the environment.

In the brewing industry, there is a well-known saying that the sun is the best seller of beer. Is warming, at least in Poland, not convenient for you?
Global temperatures rise as greenhouse gas emissions rise. Maybe these changes are more visible to the naked eye elsewhere, but our climate is also going to change. But I cannot say that these are changes for the better. Higher temperatures, but also less rainfall in summer and more in winter, droughts, hurricanes and rising sea and ocean levels may become our new everyday life. From the point of view of the person responsible for purchases in Grupa Żywiec, the most important consequences of the changes are the availability and the costs of agricultural products which we use to brew beer. Without barley and water the future generations will not enjoy beer as we know it. Even if it is hot outside.

In that case, what can beer do for the climate?
The climate revolution means a complete transformation of the way we make an impact on the environment. Beer production is an area that we can deal with on our own, reducing emissions primarily through green energy sources – currently 100% of electricity in Grupa Żywiec comes from renewable sources. However, our influence is not limited to production. Beer is made from malt and water, it is packaged and distributed to customers. We can only make changes to the entire chain once consulted with our suppliers. Today, agriculture and the processing of raw materials needed to produce beer account for 35% of our entire carbon footprint. Our ambition is that by the end of this decade, all malt and hops come from sustainable plantations.

Do you use sustainable raw materials in beer production?
Grupa Żywiec was the first on the market to introduce beer brewed from 100% sustainable malt. Specjal – our brand in the north of Poland – was able to offer such a product to consumers thanks to cooperation with Malteurop, which obtains its malt primarily from local, sustainable plantations. We also supported Polish farmers during the pandemic – allocating PLN 5 million for the earlier purchase of malting barley from sustainable plantations.

Grupa Żywiec is one of the pioneers in the promotion of sustainable agriculture in Poland. We are a company that, together with others who think like us, founded the Polish Association of Sustainable Agriculture “ASAP” in order to create and develop the market of sustainable agriculture.  

We also try to take actions in the spirit of “zero waste” on a daily basis. Only the brewery in Żywiec produces about 80,000 tons of spent grain and 10,000 tons of yeast slurry per year. For us, however, these are not waste, as it might seem, but by-products that we care for and prepare in such a way that they can be passed on, as they are a key element for the functioning of other industries. The spent grain from the brewery in Żywiec is entirely intended for fodder – it is a valuable food for cattle. For this reason, we even have a veterinary inspection in the brewery twice a year to verify that all the conditions for qualifying it as fodder are met. In turn, the yeast slurry is a feed additive for animals, not only for cattle, but for many different species, including domestic and farm animals like pigs, horses, and birds, or even pigeons. Nothing is wasted with us. This is an important part of our sustainability strategy.

Is sustainable production in this case compatible with the logic of the market? Sustainable raw materials do not necessarily have to be cheaper than those from other crops?
Today, the challenge is limited supply. We look at it from the point of view of investment, not costs, and the need to build a certain scale. The development of this sector depends on the involvement of producers in cooperation with suppliers and can be a source of competitive advantage in terms of creating value for consumers. Of course, all of this leads to them, because they make the choices in our customers’ stores.

For us, sustainable products are a way to create additional value for our clients and consumers. Also due to the fact that they require larger investments in a short period of time, they deserve communication support and consistent education. The sustainable agriculture sector needs support and a unified trademark, supported by public administration, for products made from such crops which will make it possible to easily find sustainable products on store shelves, and also offer them to our customers. A clean environment in the long term pays off for everyone.

Thank you for the interview!

60 years of sustainability in plant and animal nutrition

We talk to Agata Stolarska, President of the Management Board of Timac Agro Polska, about how scientific research and innovation translate into qualitative, profitable crops without soil degradation.

How do you support Polish farmers in implementing the principles of sustainable agriculture?
Respect for the environment, both in the use of our products as well as at every stage of production, is in our DNA. For 60 years, we have been basing our business strategy on innovation in the field of sustainable nutrition of plants and animals. The effect of this approach is reflected in our offer – our customers are offered solutions that are a response to the climate crisis and intense environmental degradation.

This policy is very consistent with the European Green Deal, which aims to transform the European Union into a climate-neutral area and, through the Farm to Fork Strategy, to provide consumers with healthy, sustainable food, which cannot be achieved without a change in the approach to fertilization and plant protection.

Not only our products, but also our model of cooperation with farms, with business partners, with the world of science, involves the implementation and use of preparations based on reliable analysis of the situation on the farm, in order to effectively manage resources and reduce the impact on the natural environment. Through this action, we directly support both farms that adapt to the requirements of the European Green Deal, as well as those that implement the ideas of sustainable agriculture, and since we also have products approved for use in organic farming, we also support the most demanding entities.

We support food producers at the very beginning of the process – that is, in the field. It is where everything begins and ends in a way. Our technical and commercial advisors reach over 600 farms a day, choosing carefully sustainable patterns of plant and animal nutrition so that they can produce not only more, but also healthier.

The competences of our field advisors, equipped with the necessary knowledge and tools (such as pH meter, fluorimeter, EC meter or soil scanner) help to choose appropriate recommendations, tailored to the needs of a given crop, in specific soil conditions and based on the balance of nutrients that we have at our disposal on a given farm. Our products, in addition to carefully selected raw materials, also contain a number of biostimulating substances of plant and mineral origin the role of which is to better uptake and use of nutrients by the plant and to maintain the correct soil culture. Thanks to such comprehensive solutions, we reduce the loss of nutrients and increase their efficiency which in turn allows us to reduce their consumption. I think we are aware today that often “less is more” and the doses of fertilizers are very often increased without any specific justification.

What do you think sustainable plant nutrition is?
Sustainable nutrition is primarily one that allows you to cover the nutritional needs of plants at a level that gives a profitable, high-quality crop, without a negative impact on the natural environment and humans. The use of natural and mineral fertilisers should ensure the appropriate use of nutrients so as to limit their losses.

The key principles that should be followed in a sustainable plant nutrition system is the pursuit of the maximum use of nutrients from all sources on the farm, taking care of soil fertility (pH, fertility, humus content, biological activity) and precise determination of fertilizer doses based on soil analyses.

What is plant stress, what does it involve and how to prevent it?
Plant stress is the reaction of plants to adverse environmental factors (so-called stressors) that negatively affect the development of plants limiting their yield, and in extreme conditions can even lead to plant dieback. In principle, any abiotic element, such as water, temperature, minerals etc. in excess or deficiency, can cause stress. The same applies to biotic factors such as plant diseases and pests – they are also stressors that cause a series of biochemical reactions and, consequently, permanent plant damage. In the context of climate change, but also limiting the availability of many plant protection products, the most important challenge is to build as healthy and resistant plant as possible, because only such a plant can cope with stressful conditions.

How to cope? Although plants are devoid of emotion, as in the case of human health, the principle of “prevention is better than cure” is confirmed. Therefore, we can support plants by stimulating them with substances of natural origin. I am thinking here exactly about biostimulation based on the mechanisms of fighting abiotic stress. We have a number of such products, containing extracts from marine algae which, in addition to the highest yield potential in the plant world, have extraordinary resistance to stress conditions and regenerative abilities. We managed to extract them and capture them in such a formula that each complex stimulates the crops on which it will be applied, thus supporting the natural defense mechanisms of plants.

Can you say more about the profitability of agricultural production in the context of organic and sustainable farming?
I believe that organic farming can be quite a large alternative to conventional agriculture, provided that it is profitable, of course. In this respect, the potential in Poland is really huge – you just need to see how quickly the “ECO” department is growing in any large important network. The IQS report “Bio ‒ a market opportunity” shows that products marked “bio” are occasionally purchased by 67% of consumers, and regularly by 19% of them. Not only the EC which establishes the ambitious “Farm to Fork” plan with the goal of achieving 25% of crops in the organic farming system by 2030, but also conscious consumers make this trend continue for a long time.

Does it pay off? The answer cannot be unequivocal because in every farm we have a different situation. Internally, at Timac Agro, we are talking about the so-called “eco-productiv” farms, i.e. profit-oriented farms where hectares with crops cultivated as eco are intended for sale, not for the subsidies. There are many organizations, such as Biopomorze which bring together those farms that see the sense of such a model of agriculture and achieve measurable profits. Contrary to popular belief, these are not only farms focused on the production of vegetables, fruits or eggs. Increasingly, the eco crops are cereals for which the domestic and European markets are currently expanding. Today, these manufacturers are looking for solutions, knowledge, support and products from companies such as Timac Agro.

What challenges do you face every day when dealing with Polish farmers?
The basic challenges and problems of Polish farmers are, contrary to appearances, very similar to farmers all over Europe. Starting from the problems of production outdoors, through the availability of labor resources, and ending with the ever-changing legislative environment.

As every farm is an enterprise and it is governed by the same laws of economics, every farmer would like to produce as much of quality crop (or milk, or meat) as possible, with the lowest possible expenditures in terms of money and time. I think that awareness, knowledge, the degree of modernization of our native farms, as compared to Europe is very high and is constantly growing. Our role and the main challenge as a company is to provide the farm with solutions that will allow it, with limited risk, to achieve a profitable, qualitative yield without degrading the soil which is the workshop managed by the farmer.

We also encounter more and more often the need to help farmers with running plantations in terms of setting up technologies for plant nutrition and restoring soil to high culture. We offer high-quality service on the basis of which we draw both general and specific conclusions tailored to the specific conditions of the region, the farm and the cultivation. Still a topical issue is to increase the efficiency of the use of nutrients at different pH, nitrogen management, supporting plants in emergence, good rooting and regeneration. Our year-round presence in the fields allows us to make rational decisions to build a crop while maintaining balance in the environment.

What role do your research and development play in preventing the loss of soil fertility and biodiversity?
The Roullier Group originates from Brittany, a region of France located on the Breton Peninsula, on the Atlantic Ocean, with the largest tides in Europe, and an amazing variety of marine algae. In agricultural terms, it is a region that produces almost 50% of French fattening pigs and 20% of milk (first place in domestic production). Among other things, it’s the intensive animal production that has led to soil degradation in this region – a bit like in Greater Poland – which is why today in Brittany, where soils are predominantly very acidic and acidic with poor biological activity, we are working to restore them to the most natural state possible.

Due to our roots, maintaining the fertility of the soil at a high level and providing plants with substances supporting their vigor in order to maximize the genetic potential of plant yielding has become the main challenge of the company’s founder – Daniel Roullier who, being both a sea enthusiast and a farmer, decided to explore the secrets of marine algae – plants which, being practically constantly under the influence of abiotic stressors, develop and achieve impressive yields.

Algae are an extremely rich source of biologically active substances stimulating plants for effective mineral nutrition, photosynthesis and biomass growth. Used by Breton farmers for decades, in calcified form, they were a great soil activator. Based on the observation of these practices, the first of our laboratories was established to study the properties of these plants in the context of restoring the biological activity of the soil and plant biostimulation. After over 60 years of research in cooperation with scientists and laboratories from around the world we have a unique research center, located in Saint Malo.

With its scientific staff and research methods implemented in CMI’s experimental greenhouses and laboratories, the The Roullier Global Innovation Center is a significant knowledge center in the field of plant and animal nutrition, paving the way for future global agriculture.

Today, we proudly speak of considerable scientific achievements which translate into over 300 patents used in our products intended for both plants and animals. Also in Poland we cooperate with several universities with which we test new solutions, inspiring ourselves together. An example can be cooperation with the Faculty of Horticulture, Biotechnology and Landscape Architecture of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, where one of our colleagues is carrying out an implementation doctorate using our preparations, assessing the effect of biostimulating fertilizers and phytohormone precursors in terms of minimizing the impact of abiotic stress on the quality, the yield and the health of blueberry fruit.

Thank you for the interview!

Sustainable gardening

We talk about where the passion for gardening comes from, how the approach to cultivation in home gardens is changing as well as about the horticultural fertilizer market in Poland with Wiktor Kacmajor, President of the Management Board of Tamark S.A.

Please tell us what is the scale of gardening in Poland?
The largest group of hobby gardeners are the owners of home gardens, of which there are about 5 million in Poland. An equally important part of the horticultural community are gardeners who maintain about 1 million allotment gardens. In addition, this group includes Poles who, to a lesser extent, cultivate a variety of plants in their apartments, mainly those with balconies and terraces. It is worth noting that during the pandemic many completely new young amateur gardeners have appeared, who, due to the limitation of tourism, have set up their own gardens and are gaining experience.

We estimate that about 7% of people involved in amateur gardening in our country are gardeners who can be described as experts. These are people who have been devoting themselves to hobby crops for many years. A much larger group are enthusiasts, who use the experience of these experts – e.g. their parents or neighbors.

In recent years, we have observed several important trends in horticulture. The most important thing was to maintain decorative gardens with well-maintained lawns. At the same time, there is a return to fruit and vegetable cultivation, but not for economic reasons as in the 1970-90s of the twentieth century, but due to ecology and the satisfaction of growing for oneself.  In the years 2020-2021, the gardens, due to the pandemic, have become a center of entertainment and leisure activities. It can also be seen that under the influence of fashion from Western Europe, the garden is more and more often treated as a showcase of the owners of the house or plot.

Who are the main clients for horticultural fertilizers?
Undoubtedly, the largest group using mineral fertilizers are the owners of lawns, coniferous, and ornamental plants. In amateur cultivation of vegetables and fruit, mainly biological fertilizers such as composts, liquid manure or ready-made biohumus (vermicompost) products are used. On the other hand, for home and terrace applications, liquid concentrates, spikes or fertilizer applicators are willingly used. At the same time, awareness of the need to preserve biodiversity in the garden has grown significantly in recent years. However, most users still use care methods aimed at the fastest possible effect with a relatively low amount of work.

What is the role of water in the garden?
Water is one of the basic factors influencing the proper care of gardens. We observe very positive and large-scale trends in water saving. The most important of these is the accumulation of rainwater. At the same time, the soil is increasingly enriched with biocomponents which results in accumulation or better assimilation of water. Other important trends include the development of drip irrigation systems or owners’ more and more rational approach to watering lawns and reducing irrigation during periods of drought. It is also worth mentioning the incentives and local government subsidies for the construction of rainwater tanks.

Please tell us about the best practices of integrated pest management in the garden.
As a manufacturer of the Target brand, we try to promote the best plant protection practices. It is primarily to ensure the resistance of plants through the appropriate biological composition of the soil and at least once a year fertilizing with products of natural origin, such as nettle extracts. At the same time, we recommend gardeners to use plant protection products approved for organic cultivation or products that control pests physically. An important element of our recommendations is the use of products supporting plant immunity, such as basic substances. Only in the case of a high intensity of diseases or pests do we offer plant protection products approved in Poland for use by non-professionals. All our consumers have access to advice in this regard on our website and also through a dedicated application (Green First Aid).

How are your products made?
We are a manufacturer of mineral fertilizers which we granulate on site. Since 2021 we have also been producing fertilizers which contain basalt rock dust which we have registered. In turn, the products for care and protection of plants are obtained from recognized domestic or foreign companies, and in our company we pack or formulate them. Our task is to monitor the needs of the market and search for innovative products as well as to support Polish gardeners with knowledge and competence. We also try to create trends in sustainable plant protection and care.

What does sustainable gardening mean to you?
It can be said that sustainable gardening is thinking about the garden and making actions even before the problems such as diseases or malnutrition of plants occur. For this purpose, everyone beginning the adventure with gardening should take care of the right soil, water and healthy seeds or seedlings. Planning is important because using products to replace traditional fertilizers or plant protection products requires a lot of knowledge and a much greater amount of work. The Internet plays a huge role here as it is actually the only medium that provides knowledge on the subject about sustainable plant cultivation. In our opinion, European countries do not sufficiently support sustainable cultivation of plants. The use of prohibitions and exclusions of plant protection products does not go hand in hand with support for fast track registration of organic or natural products.

How does Target implement principles of sustainable development in its company?
Our flagship achievement is the Target Natural product line, in which we have a range of fertilizers and plant protection products that meet the needs of the average amateur gardener. We are intensively developing this line, recently introducing fertilizers with basalt rock dust. We were also the first to implement a dedicated application for hobbyists –, in order to even more effectively promote all methods of sustainable plant care.

At the same time, as a company, we are also changing in terms of reducing our carbon footprint through solutions such as the installation of 150 kW photovoltaic panels, or replacing our car fleet with hybrid vehicles. In 2020, we also invested in a new sewage treatment plant and introduced modern methods of hazardous waste management – whether at our production plant or at our customers’ premises.

Thank you for the interview!

Global certification standard in Poland

Why is it worth being certified for the sustainability of agricultural production? What does this process involve and how to carry it out? We are talking about it with Aleksandra Jeleń, Head of certification at SGS Polska Sp. z o. o.

Can you tell us what SGS does?
SGS Polska is one of the largest inspection, verification, testing and certification bodies. In Poland, we have a team of several dozen qualified auditors operating throughout the country. We are part of SGS global organization with a network of over 2,600 branches and laboratories with 93,000 employees. In the area of agricultural certification, we certify such standards as Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA), GLOBALG.A.P., Organic Farming and Integrated Production. All standards are aimed at supervising food safety and sustainable production of agricultural products, and each of them confirms the proper management of the farm and the natural environment.

How does knowledge and experience from other markets help you in Poland?
SGS is a globally operating entity that provides comprehensive services to a wide range of customers. This includes all kinds of certification and testing services that our customers may need for business purposes. This gives us a very broad understanding of what is currently happening in the agri-food sector and what are the current challenges for the industry and for the farmers themselves. From the customer’s point of view, the cooperation of the Polish branch within our network gives us the opportunity to serve customers faster thanks to international accreditations for some of the standards. International accreditation enables us to carry out certification for global companies operating in many countries. This business solution allows us to offer our customers an audit in their native language.

In addition, cooperation with auditors from various countries gives us the opportunity to obtain knowledge about the requirements in individual countries. Thanks to this, it is easier for us to carry out audits abroad, if the customer needs it. Of course, during foreign audits, it is always a challenge to face the legal requirements in the field of food safety which are in force in a given country. They also differ within the European Union itself. In the case of audits in the agricultural sector, we must always take into account that each country has its own list of plant protection products which are authorized for a given crop, so in each case we must use appropriate databases to verify the information received during the audit.

What is sustainable agriculture certification?
Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) supports food and beverage companies and farmers throughout the value chain with the goal of gradually moving towards sustainable agricultural production. FSA certification increases the sustainability of production throughout the supply chain and improves long-term economic prospects.

The certification process begins with an application to the certification body. The first step of preparation for certification is to get acquainted with the checklist prepared by the SAI, which will be later used by the auditor, and carrying out a self-assessment of the farm. After the self-assessment, the producer needs to prepare all missing documents, so that there will be no problems with obtaining the certificate. After the audit, the producer is given 28 days to close the non-conformities, if any. Then the unit has another 28 days to verify the documentation and to make a decision on granting the certificate. The certification must be renewed annually. Certification costs are in the range of net PLN 3,000-5,000 depending on the type of certification chosen. In the long run, the producer notices the benefits of running the system and obtaining a certificate. Proper management of the farm, the use of plant protection products and fertilizers rationally reduces production costs, and the certificate itself increases the competitiveness of the farm in the eyes of food processing companies.

Do you prepare farms for certifications?
SGS is accredited for its services and, like other certification bodies, it is not allowed to prepare farms for certification. This ensures impartiality and prevents a possible conflict of interest. However, at the request of each customer, we can indicate companies that support farmers in this process. These are acknowledged entities, with whose work we were never disappointed and we can recommend them to farmers who are interested in such a service.

How is sustainable agriculture certification different from other certifications?
The basic feature that distinguishes sustainable agriculture certification from other certifications is its long-term impact on the farm. Most of the other certifications confirm the safety of food produced in a given growing season. Certification of sustainable agriculture is based on building a plan for the subsequent years, which would affect the entire farm and optimize the use of fertilizers and plant protection products, and thus affect the optimization of production costs.

In turn, GLOBALG.A.P. certification is a product certification, and the certificate is issued for a specific plant that has been submitted for certification. However, GLOBALG.A.P. in cooperation with the SAI Platform has created an additional FSA module, which allows for an additional assessment of aspects of social responsibility, the way of management and financial stability of the farm, which are not assessed within the basic GLOBALG.A.P. checklist. In this case, a farm will receive two certificates confirming compliance with the requirements of both standards.

Integrated Production is a Polish certification system supervised by the State Plant Health and Seed Inspection Service. The products are subjected to strict control for residues of plant protection products and fertilizers. The grounds for the system are correctly selected items, such as correct crop rotation and agricultural activities, rational use of plant protection products and fertilizers.

In the case of animal production, the own standards of processing companies are most common, but at the same time the industry associations are also busy with the development of possibly effective methodologies for sustainable animal breeding, e.g. Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef or European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability. At the same time, welfare-focused systems are available with more and more emphasized elements of sustainable production, such as Animal Welfare Approved or Red Tractor standards.

In your opinion, what are the main barriers to the popularization of sustainable agricultural production certification in Poland?
Farm certifications are becoming increasingly popular in the food production market as consumer awareness increases. In their choices, the consumers pay more and more attention to both food safety and the impact of the production process on the natural environment. Therefore, the interest in certification is gradually increasing. However, so far this is due to the requirements of food processing companies and retail chains who wish to improve their competitive position by satisfying the changing expectations of Poles. On the other hand, the awareness that the certification also translates into the optimization of the functioning of the farm itself in terms of finance is still low. Producers also do not know how sustainable agriculture can affect the activities of the entire farm. It is one of the basic barriers influencing the interest in certificates among Polish farmers. That is why we decided to support the activities of the Polish Association of Sustainable Agriculture “ASAP” and become an active member of the organization. This allows us to exchange know-how with other members throughout the food chain and thus better share this knowledge with the farmers themselves.

Thank you for the interview!