Agricultural channels: major drivers of the farming and food transition
Flour, pasta, malt, rapeseed oil, you name it: the wide diversity of production is reflected in the 90 traceable farming specifications channels developed to date by the Axereal cooperative group. By promoting the adoption of sustainable practices, these channels enable all involved to fully engage in the drive towards the agricultural and food transition, and move into the premium markets which, tomorrow, are set to become the mainstream standard.
This approach is at the heart of the Axereal strategy. The Group has invested a great deal of effort in constructing its channels. Ninety are already in place across a wide range of products and with big-name clients (Panzani, Banette, Harrys, Saipol, Boortmalt, etc.), representing 650,000 tonnes of production under contract in 2020, with the aim of achieving 1 million tonnes by 2022.
These channels are based on specific, precise specifications that require those involved to adopt sustainable approaches. The channels also give echo to the societal demands expressed by consumers, and which are often relayed by processors and retailers. Some of these channels encourage the adoption of practices that are more environmentally friendly. They can also promote French produce, highly prized by manufacturers. Other channels address transparency expectations by proposing particularly granular production traceability.
For Axereal, this kind of commitment should culminate in getting the best value from the production of farmers across its territory and creating value that is spread throughout the chain, from producer to consumer. "These channels have been put in place because they correspond to a particular market," explains Pierre Toussaint, Sustainable Development Director at Axereal. "Farmers deserve fair remuneration in return for their commitment." Through these channels, farmers also benefit from secure outlets for their production, sometimes stretching over several years.
More than 4,000 committed farmers
Within the Cooperative, more than 4,000 farmers have already joined these traceable channels. This involves, as a preliminary, participating in the CultivUp initiative, the first step in the Group's sustainable farming approach, involving compliance with more than 100 criteria (respect for biodiversity, installation of plant cover, vigilance regarding the health and safety of farmworkers, etc.).
Besides better returns, involvement in this sustainable production chain should "be a source of pride for farmers, and give a sense of purpose to their work," explains Pierre Toussaint. It also offers farmers a means of preparing for the future of their farms, since the approach to which they are committed opens up their path to the farming and food transition. Producing in channels enables farmers, and all the other links in the chain, to move into the demanding premium markets, and into markets which are adapting to future regulatory requirements, such as carbon neutrality and low GHG approaches. In this way farmers can stay ahead of the game so that they will be ready when, tomorrow, these markets and the practices linked with them become standard.
Banette Quality Channel: flour to meet consumer expectations
Banette flour, of which Axereal is a partner, has been one of the products around which a channel has been structured for many years. The channel shifted again in 2019, when its common specifications targeting best practices were reinforced. Since then, each stakeholder (farmers, storage facilities and millers) strives daily to comply with the commitments adopted.
The first of these is to produce flour from 100% French wheat with full traceability. This grain must also be suited to the local soil conditions and farmed using practices that are kinder to the environment (fertilisation reduced to the strict minimum, soil protection procedures, etc.). Production also takes place in compliance with the Charte de production agricole française (French farm production charter – a label certifying agricultural practices that respect the environment). "We now have a new requirement: grain must be stored without treatment after harvesting," says Nicolas Lecointre, Marketing and Sales Development Manager for artisan baking with Axereal's milling arm, Axiane Meunerie. "This is in response to growing demands from consumers."
These commitments represent the backbone of the Banette Quality Channel. Each of them has been actively promoted this autumn in certain artisan bakeries, through a communication campaign for the Banette brand. It has provided an opportunity to explain to consumers that behind the loaves we buy there are many people in different trades contributing daily to supplying quality flour. As part of this campaign, David Gonin, arable farmer in Saint-Valentin (Indre) and a member of the Axereal Board, featured in a TV report broadcast in October 2020, and in resources distributed to bakeries.
Panzani Channel: zero residues objective for crop protection products
The Panzani channel was created in 2017, with Axereal as one of the partners for durum wheat. Its specifications have been co-constructed by the various stakeholders in the channel. "This makes for fruitful exchanges and a sharing of knowledge, for example between agronomists and processors, to identify potential for development," says Frédéric Gond, the Axereal Administrator responsible for overseeing the durum wheat channel.
The commitments are built mainly around a flagship objective: attaining, by 2025, zero residues of crop protection products in the durum wheat used to produce Panzani Blé Responsable Français pasta. "This involves a transition to new farming practices," explains Stéphane Saint-Jean, Axereal Grain Trade Manager. "The choice of varieties, for example, with appropriate crop rotation, along with suitable monitoring of the soil and weather conditions with the support of technical sales reps and decision-making tools, will enable farmers to protect their crops, achieve target yields and quality, and comply with the specifications too."
Lots of work is also being done around harvesting, to put in place alternatives to storage insecticides. This constitutes the first stage of the channel's approach to zero residues of crop protection products. Investments are being made and new solutions are progressively being deployed, such as the installation of cooling units in certain grain elevators to lower the storage temperature and so prevent insects from reproducing.