Sustainable Food Systems in Europe

Europe’s farmers, consumers want sustainably-produced food

Our new research study with Longitude, a Financial Times company, reveals that European consumers not only want sustainably-produced food, they support innovations like CRISPR, that are key to sustainable food production. Seventy-eight percent of European farmers are implementing sustainable farming practices, but at a heavy financial toll. This report is a first step in our commitment as a new company to support farmers in delivering sustainably-produced food to European consumers.

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wooden crate full of broccoli

Encouraging new insights emerge from European study

New research from the Financial Times Company and Corteva Agriscience shows European consumers and farmers not only want sustainable food, they also support technology like gene editing/CRISPR that will make European food production sustainable.

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Consumers lead strategic change in sustainable farming


Consumer demands have never been constant, but today’s market changes are threatening the sales growth of large food companies, including multinationals. Sustainable Food Systems, research commissioned by Corteva and conducted by Longitude, a Financial Times Company, surveyed 600 European farm owners and managers and 2,500 European consumers to find out about these consumer expectations and how farmers are responding to them.

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Key Findings

The Sustainable Food Systems report reveals that farmers and consumers share a strong desire for greater sustainability; growing anxiety about pollution and environmental damage; and a willingness to engage with new farming technologies that could produce more nutritious food.

Farmers and consumers see sustainability as a priority

More than half of European consumers (51%) say that reducing artificial pesticides is the issue they most care about in relation to sustainably-produced food. This is closely followed by a preference for reducing food waste (48%) and ensuring that small farmers and community farms are able to trade on fair terms (35%).


Reflecting social trends, the majority of farmers are already limiting their use of artificial pest controls or have plans to do so in the next two years; this is the sustainability practice that the research suggests is most popular among European farmers.


Farmers and consumers welcome new plant-breeding techniques

Technology linked to sustainable agriculture and the production of more nutritious food enjoys strong support from farmers and consumers alike. Sixty-three percent of Europe’s farmers plan to implement new plant-breeding techniques over the next five years, with enhancing the nutritional value of crops and removing allergens the most widely held priorities. Among consumers, more than half (53%) say they are likely to accept these techniques when they buy sustainably-produced food, and only 11% consider this unlikely.

Europe’s farmers face a range of challenges

One-third of farmers see unfavorable domestic agricultural policies as their greatest challenge today. However, 34% of farmers expect pollution to become their biggest problem in three to five years’ time. The research also highlights how the challenges farmers face vary considerably from country to country. For example, UK farmers are more concerned with changing consumer preferences than their counterparts elsewhere, whereas French farmers are most anxious about climate-related problems.

Committing to sustainability is tough on the pocket

Many farmers have already adopted a broad range of sustainability practices, but we have identified several “sustainability champions” – farmers who have already implemented three or more sustainable agricultural practices. This group cites financial pressures as their greatest challenge. One explanation for this may be that becoming a sustainability champion requires a greater level of investment. Some 69% of the champions say that applying sustainable agricultural practices requires them to invest more money, compared with 24% of other farmers.

The champions also feel that they are unable to pass the cost of increased sustainability down the supply chain. Some 44% say they feel under pressure from food producers and distributors to keep their prices low, which is more than twice the percentage of farmers with two or fewer sustainability measures who say they feel this pressure.

Quality not quantity: nutrition above yield

Only 14% of farmers say the most important benefit of new plant-breeding techniques is increased yield. Health and sustainability improvements are widely regarded as more significant in the current social climate. In addition to the 24% of farmers who see enhanced nutritional value of crops as the greatest benefit of new plant-breeding techniques, 17% are enthused about the potential to cut food waste, and 15% cite the reduced need for pest control.

crop field under dark sky

The Challenge

“We must grow more food in a more efficient manner with less environmental impact, while also recognizing that consumers are looking for high quality and more natural products,” David Wilkinson, Senior Director of Agricultural Procurement for Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa at PepsiCo.

Who are the farming sustainability champions?

We compared the answers of those farmers who have implemented three or more sustainable agricultural practices with those of the rest. Out of the 600 European farmers surveyed, 78% say they have implemented up to two sustainable practices, and 22% say they have implemented three or more sustainable practices. We refer to this latter group as the “sustainability champions.” The group consists of 31% small farms, 45% medium-sized farms, and 24% large farms. France and Italy have the highest percentage of sustainability champions (33% and 25% respectively). The differences between the sustainability champions and the rest of the farmers are telling, and are referenced throughout the report.

man driving tractor in field at sunset with dark yellow sky

Case Studies

Profiling Some Sustainability Champions

Across Europe, farmers are embracing more sustainable operational practices, some implementing three or more sustainability practices on their farms. These are the stories of two sustainability champions. We profile a company pursuing a unique mission, to produce good beer and reduce food waste, and coming soon, an entrepreneur shaking up the rice trade.

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