Morrisons are supporting a team of Tree Advisors from the Forest Canopy Foundation to give specialist advice to their network of 3,000 farmers, to help plant the right tree species in the right place for the right reasons. The advice includes how to access government and grant funding to cover famers’ costs, as well as how to manage woodland projects for both additional income and environmental benefits, without impacting upon individual farm businesses.
We caught up with Sophie Throup, Head of Sustainability and Agriculture at Morrisons, to find out more about their Tree Advisor initiative - an innovative approach to supporting farmers to plant trees to improve sustainability, soil health and farm productivity.
Q: Let’s start with the overall challenge, what was the drive behind your Tree Advisor initiative?
Morrisons have set an ambitious plan to be directly supplied by net zero British farms by 2030. We are working with famers and our supply chain to lower emissions as far as possible and then looking at a net zero balance approach. We want to encourage opportunities for nature recovery that are hand in hand with carbon sequestration on the farms that supply us. We also wanted to work in partnership - connecting people and signposting to existing advice and support networks.
Q: What led you to take the approach of employing Tree Advisors?
For our net zero programme, we are looking for industry experts to journey with our farmers to get them to the right destination.We knew that trees needed to play an important part in the net zero balance - but it can be a sensitive subject when faced with the challenge of food production and concerns about displacing food production with tree planting.
I am a big believer in walking in each other’s shoes, understanding different perspectives. We wanted to give farmers access to specialist advisors that would open up conversations between foresters and farmers - show how we can work together in the same landscape and allay any concerns.
We also wanted to provide individual advice on the farm, so farmers could think about the right tree, in the right place, and for the right reason for them. We wanted to show that trees and woodlands could be a business option, but it must be the right reason for the farmer and their farm business.
Q: The initiative involved working with key partners, what were the benefits of working together?
A connected partnership between Morrisons, Forestry Commission and Natural England through Catchment Sensitive Farming and Forest Canopy Foundation seemed like a really important thing to do. We felt it was important not to be distanced from where government policy, decisions and strategies were being set centrally, but also to have an independent voice through the advisors. Much of the free advice and support that is already available fails to cascade to the farm level, so we are trying to join those dots.
Q: What was the process behind setting up your tree advice offer?
We set up a working group with invaluable support from our partners. Catchment Sensitive Farming and Forestry Commission were able to advise and align us from a government policy perspective. It felt like a properly joined up piece of work.
Once the group had set the outcomes, we followed a tender process to source tree advisors, funded by Morrisons. We are delighted to be working with the independent forestry professionals at Forest Canopy Foundation, a partnership of forestry professionals responding to the climate crisis and focusing on increasing woodland creation.
Q: How did you roll out the scheme?
We went to our 50 blueprint farms first - a selection of farmers that we are working with to create net zero carbon farm ‘models’. Once a workable blueprint has been established, the models will then be shared with all Morrisons farmers. We didn’t make it mandatory for every blueprint farm to accept a visit from a Tree Advisor - it’s their business and their choice - but the vast majority took up the offer. Now we’ll open up the Tree Advisor scheme more widely to all 3000 farmers in the Morrisons supply chain network.
Q: What was the response like? Did farmers welcome the advice from the Tree Advisors?
We’ve had a really good response! I think key to that has been farmers learning how to access grant funding to finance tree planting, how to secure income from their woodland projects, as well as how tree planting can complement their farm business activity. Really interesting conversations have flowed on, with farmers considering other business opportunities they hadn’t looked at before. It does have to add up financially for the farmers, so this has been a really important piece of work.
" The advice we received has been really useful in making plans for future tree planting. Help understanding the correct tree for the correct place has been key, as well as how to access funding to make a project viable. Also, being given an idea of the ongoing management of any woodland project is imperative, as this maintenance allows a healthy woodland to thrive and reach its potential, both in terms of timber stocks and carbon sequestration. "
Tim Phipps, Phipps Farm Partnership, Bragborough Hall, Daventry
Q: What top tips would you give to any other organisations considering tree planting initiatives?
We all know it’s a difficult time for farming, so try to think about it from a people point of view, not just a process point of view. Think about influencing, engaging, persuading, building a relationship with those farmers on the ground doing the work. They are very busy and not necessarily focusing on new business in the farm. Having someone else helping them to think about trees helps them concentrate on the bigger issues. Getting the information out isn’t enough, you need to think about who is delivering it and how.
Q: What are the next steps for Morrisons?
Keep going and keep growing! We all have a really big challenge ahead of us within the net zero space. One of Morrisons’ key themes is ‘nature positive farming’ and we’re very mindful of improving our overall environment - we want to have a positive impact. Our work is growing and growing but there is always more to do!
With thanks to Sophie Throup, Head of Sustainability & Agriculture at Morrisons.
Find out how the Forestry Commission can support you to plant trees on your land and access available grants and funding at www.gov.uk/guidance/create-woodland-overview
Catchment Sensitive Farming is led by Natural England in partnership with Defra and the Environment Agency. It works with farmers, communities, and organisations in catchments across England to improve the quality of air, water and natural flood management, through the Agricultural Transition.
To find out more visit: Catchment Sensitive Farming: advice for farmers and land managers - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)