March 16, 2021

Barilla on the Importance of Sustainable Farming Practices

Barilla's thoughts on the importance of sustainability and how hi-tech agricultural solutions like the Augmenta System can help achieve it.

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Barilla on the Importance of Sustainable Farming Practices

Through our open conversation with Gustavo Savino, Greek and Extra Europe Durum Wheat and Semolina Purchasing Senior Manager, Simone Agostinelli, Purchasing Europe Durum Wheat & Group Sustainable Farming Project Manager and Konstantinos Theocharidis, Barilla Hellas Durum Wheat and Semolina Purchasing Manager we found out why sustainability has become such a crucial issue and how its going to reshape the future of the existing farming practices.

Photo from our field day with Barilla in 2018 - VRA Pilot Test.Photo from our field day with Barilla in 2018 - VRA Pilot Test.
1/ Given that Barilla is already a hugely successful pasta company, why do you invest so much time/effort promoting further sustainable farming practices?

[Gustavo Savino]: Food producers the world over are faced with very complex production, logistics and consumption systems that are not always sustainable.

However, under the guidelines set in 2015 by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, sustainability as being essential to the preservation and wellbeing of people, animals and the planet.

Moreover, the Paris Climate Agreement (COP21) of 2015 established a global action plan to limit global warming to well below 2°C. Both accords are benchmarks for achieving a desired paradigm shift. They also place agriculture and food production at the center of discussions on global sustainable growth, highlighting the need to radically rethink current models.

Undoubtedly, the food sector has many urgent challenges to face. Limited access to food in combination with poor nutritional habits has created a great imbalance worldwide; on one hand, 821 million people are undernourished, while on the other, 2.1 billion people are obese or overweight. Additionally, each year approximately one third of global food production is wasted.

This equates to around 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food squandered throughout the various stages of the production, supply chain or at the time of consumption.

These facts become more alarming if we consider that they equate to more than four times the amount of food required to feed the undernourished people in the world. Lastly, increasingly radical climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and the indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources are all having a significant negative impact.

This means that each year we consume the resources of 1.7 planets and unless we immediately change our lifestyle, by 2050 we will require the resources of 3 planets.

2/ Tell us more about how you operate. Why is your sustainability program so important and what actions have you taken as a sustainability manager to raise its awareness?

[Simone Agostinelli]: Barilla's “Good for You, Good for the Planet” mission is our mandate for providing good, nutritionally balanced food to the world – food which is sourced from responsible supply chains, inspired by the Italian lifestyle and the virtues of the Mediterranean diet.

  • Good food is defined as; quality, flavor, a culinary experience, accessibility, pleasure and conviviality.
  • Healthy food is defined as; selected raw materials and balanced nutritionally balanced profiles to support healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Food sourced from responsible supply chain is defined as; seeking the best ingredients to guarantee quality, while respecting people, animals and the environment.

The mission calls for the implementation of enhancement projects that touch on all stages of the production and supply chain, from field to fork. Success is contingent on the determination of all Barilla personnel, the collaborations established along the production and supply chain, along with the support we receive from external experts.

To this end, we continue to work on offering products with a better nutritional profile, based on the Mediterranean diet model. Since 2010, we have reformulated 455 products, reducing the salt, sugar, fat or saturated fat content.

We have increased the number of products rich in fibre, made from legumes, or have no added sugar. We have also worked tirelessly to disseminate the importance of the Mediterranean diet via global food education projects for children and young people, and by launching a brand in Germany aimed at university students. Lastly, we uphold our commitment to provide people with the tools to make conscious and responsible food choices, while inspiring them to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

From an environmental perspective, we have stepped up our efforts to reduce the impact of our products along the supply chain. Since 2010, we have achieved a 21% reduction in production process water consumption. We have also managed to cut CO2 emissions by 30%, thereby aligning our efforts with the requirements stipulated in the Paris Agreements.

Moreover, three of our brands have achieved total compensation of CO2 emissions. Finally, we continue to collaborate with our strategic supply chain players to achieve more sustainable farming practices.

3/ What do you think the driving factors speeding up sustainability are? What is the involvement of technology in this process?

[Simone Agostinelli]: In our opinion, the principles underlying any process aimed at sustainability are:

  • Seeking efficiency and competitiveness in the production system; the starting point for the development of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable supply chain that increases the competitiveness of the players involved.
  • Protecting business integrity and enforcing the code of ethics; the Barilla Group favors the adoption of long-term contracts with its suppliers, thereby guaranteeing stable earnings and promoting sustainable farming in terms of quality, food safety and environmental impact. Furthermore, all Barilla contracts with suppliers are based on the express acceptance of the principles and values laid down in the Group’s Code of Ethics.
  • Promoting food health and safety; in order to guarantee the high quality of its products, Barilla regularly monitors the risk profile of suppliers with regard to the food safety of raw materials.
  • Reducing the environmental impact; all suppliers are required to fully respect the environment and comply with national and international environmental laws. Furthermore, in order to monitor the impact of the production and supply chains throughout the product’s life cycle, the Group uses LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) methodology.
  • Listening and working together for continuous development; the Group works with various stakeholders, including universities, non-profit organizations, institutions and trade associations to identify emerging risks and opportunities in agriculture.

Technological development helps to reduce the environmental impact per unit of consumption, but to achieve this perspective, innovation must be well directed by identifying sustainability as the main objective.

4/ Over the past few years, Precision Agriculture has added value to many nodes in the supply chain. For farmers and farm managers, the merits are quite evident, but what about a company like Barilla? What value do you see in Precision Agriculture in terms of its effects on the supply chain?

[Simone Agostinelli]: For several years, Barilla has been implementing the use of technological tools for precision agriculture in its strategic supply chains.

The most important resulting outputs are:

  • Increased quality of decisions in the field.
  • Production factors optimization.
  • Environmental impact reduction.
  • Increase in raw material market value (qualitative-quantitative).
  • Enhancement of the technical means available.
5/ As you have undoubtedly met many farmers and listened to their concerns, what would you say are the main challenges and struggles they face today?

[Simone Agostinelli]: The adoption of Agriculture 4.0 [the Fourth Agricultural Revolution] encounters several obstacles. First of all, there is not only a cultural barrier to innovation and a limited awareness of the benefits, but also a certain immaturity on the part of the players on the supply side.

Many are only now restructuring themselves to offer solutions that are actually in line with the needs of companies which are more used to having relationships with very few consolidated partners.

Then there is the small average size of farms. These have difficulties in investing in and appreciating the benefits of precision technologies.

In order for digital technologies to fully deploy their potential, certain conditions need to be met. Crucial is the extension of broadband and extra-wideband to rural areas so as to ensure the interconnection of the supply chain.

Then, we need sensitivity, expertise and propensity to invest on the part of companies - a fact not necessarily taken for granted - considering the small average size of farms.

Finally, the competence of both supply and demand operators is essential. While training is also an important element, awareness is more fundamental. Farmers must be given the opportunity to fully appreciate the potential benefits of Agriculture 4.0. They need to be shown by example that digital technologies can tangibly improve their operations.

6/ What technological tools has Barilla used so far to achieve sustainability? Are you happy with the results? Are there any additional ag-tech solutions you would like to explore that could help farmers improve their daily operations?

[Simone Agostinelli]: So far, several technological means have been well implemented in Barilla’s supply chains, with enormous satisfaction. These mainly consist of tools dedicated to developing an online system capable of:

  • Providing concrete decision-making support to the different players in the food chain on various issues.
  • Providing information and advisory forms, management tools, and technologies which provide farmers and all other players in the procurement chain with the ability to reduce the incidence of contamination from mycotoxins of crops, foods, and feed.
  • Improving the management of production factors, optimizing costs and improving quantity and quality of the product intended for the market.
  • Transferring research results efficiently to the productive world.

We are very interested in those technologies that, besides offering improvements to the production phase, bring the various players in the supply chain as close as possible.

This facilitates greater collaboration and cooperation in a win-win perspective.

7/ As far we know, Barilla promotes its own durum wheat variety because of its premium quality standards. How important is it for you to be able to predict quality and quantity in wheat?

[Kostas Theocharidis]: It is critical. Being able to foresee quantity and quality of production offers us a huge competitive advantage in terms of production sustainability and revenues.

Among the most important outputs are:

  • Guarantee of final product able to reach the highest quality standards.
  • Production factor optimization.
  • Phenology and crop development.
  • Phytopathogen risk models (e.g. DON).Contaminant risk assessment.
  • Yield forecasts.
  • Grain quality prediction (e.g. protein).
  • Increased resilience of agricultural systems.
8/ In your opinion, are existing VRA-based technological innovations adequate?

[Kostas Theocharidis]: Fertilization is an important cultivation technique whose purpose is to nourish plants during the entire cultivation period. It improves the energy reserves in the plants and the fertility status of the soil by supplying compounds that will remain available to the plants during their growth cycle.

The use of drones, prescription maps, and variable rate fertilizer spreaders allows for the management of fertilization from a precision farming perspective.

The general objective of precision fertilization is to optimize the resources used in order to generate positive effects on both the environment and production. In other words, to give every single plant the amount of nitrogen it needs when it needs it, building maps of vigor and associating to each class of vigor an optimal amount of fertilizer that varies depending on the cultivar and phenological stage.

In the overall evaluation of this technique, it is also necessary to take some disadvantages into consideration:

  • The cost of the time needed to coordinate field surveys and map management.
  • The need to equip oneself with a GPS-guided tractor and variable rate fertilizer spreade
9/ Given that we have just announced a new VRA collaboration in Greece this year, would you be interested following our progress during the initial stages?

[Kostas Theocharidis]: Barilla is interested following the development of the Augmenta VRA project. In fact, Barilla will test the VRA using the Augmenta System in Greece on durum wheat pilot plants in Thessaly, Greece. Our goal is to check potential advantages to our farmers in terms of fertilizer input optimization and associated reductions of environmental impact and promote sustainability.

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