Consumer research commissioned by Corteva Agriscience show that a clear majority of households across Europe believe in sustainable food and agree that technology has a part to play in protecting the environment. But farmers feel that adopting sustainable measures is not rewarded by the market – in fact they are a cost.

Corteva logoThe company commissioned the Financial Times subsidiary Longitude to carry out two parallel surveys – one involving 2,500 consumers in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and the Ukraine. The second covered 600 farm owners and managers across the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Romania and the Ukraine.

When shopping for sustainably produced food, consumers said their priorities were to reduce waste, support smallholder farmers and limit the quantity of synthetic crop protection products used. Three-quarters of those surveyed believed that sustainable food would enhance their health and well-being, with 50% prepared to pay up to 20% more for sustainably sourced food. A further half of the sample was ready to buy sustainable food produced through new plant-breeding technologies like gene-editing.

Food manufacturers are also working on a streamlined food delivery chain, with reduced packaging and transportation waste, among other benefits.

Over one quarter of European farmers surveyed believed consumer demands to be their greatest challenge in the immediate future, ranking it equally as important as crop pest pressure. Two-thirds of the farmer sample were prepared to use crop varieties derived from new plant-breeding techniques over the next five years. They agreed that society is open to new plant-breeding techniques such as CRISPR-Cas gene-editing tools, with almost 90% thinking consumers would pay more for foodstuffs produced using these methods.

While 78% of farmers in the sample had responded to the growing consumer demand by implementing sustainable farming practices, they reported that pressure to keep farmgate prices down meant that the greater a farmer’s investment in sustainable practices, the heavier the financial toll.

“It’s not right for farmers who champion sustainable food production in Europe to continue to be penalized financially,” notes Corteva. “Farmers are calling on the rest of the food chain to share the cost of sustainable production.”

Corteva’s president Europe, Igor Teslenko says the study shows a real need for more sustainable food production in Europe. He believes the company’s integrated offer across seeds, agronomy advice, crop protection and digital platforms leaves it well positioned to support two-way conversations regarding sustainable agriculture – sharing both the farmer and consumer perspectives.
“It is great to see that consumers and farmers are ready to embrace new plant-breeding techniques that have exciting potential to grow more nutritious food to enrich the lives of producers and consumers,” he observes. “Consumers are prepared to pay more for food produced in a sustainable way, and it is now up to all stakeholders – including industry – to step up and show their support as well.”

Mr Teslenko adds that creating a sustainable food system in Europe is an attainable goal. “With breakthroughs in crop protection, plant-breeding technology and digital farm management, we are creating the exact tools we need to help farmers bring more sustainably-produced food to European consumers. Policies that recognise the transformative value of these technologies will go a long way to advancing sustainable food production in Europe.”

Corteva intends to build on the survey work through round tables, the publication of new insights and social media forums through its website.