The dawn of the carbon-neutral carrot

Annunciata Elwes reports on how vegetable growers are making their goods greener than ever.

At the beginning of August the world’s first carbon-neutral carrots were launched by a group of 10 Nottinghamshire farmers; they are now being supplied to supermarkets, restaurants and other food outlets across the country.

Formed in 1998 and with land totalling some 20,000 acres, cooperative Freshgro has pioneered the return to the UK of Chantenay carrots — which fell out of favour from the 1960s — and is now the world’s leading supplier. Between them, the farms cover more than 90% of the UK market for the variety — increasingly popular as they don’t need to be peeled. The latest 2021/22 crop has arrived with an impressively low carbon footprint of 0.03grams of CO2 per kilogram of carrots (calculated from greenhouse-gas emissions of 363 tons of carbon equivalent (CO2e) from production and harvesting of 12,500 tons of carrots). For perspective, the average carbon footprint for a kilogram of bananas is 0.7kgCO2e, eggs 4.5kgCO2e, milk 3kgCO2e and beef 60kgCO2e.

‘We’ve been working on this for a decade and a lot of it is simple common sense,’ explains Freshgro CEO and qualified agronomist Martin Evans.

‘Each year, we tweak our practice to make it better and better for the environment, from wash-water recycling to wind turbines, solar panels, using the right tractor for the right job and the biodiversity of our land in general (tree planting and so on) — all of this is taken into account. All the product is grown within 10–15 miles of the factory and our work on the Chantenay’s genetics, such as ensuring the crop stores better in warmer winters, has driven through efficiencies, too.’

He continues: ‘Growing carrots in and around the Sherwood Forest landscape char- acter area, we have always taken pride in soil conservation, provision of habitat for farmland birds and insects and sympathetic hedgerow management. Now, with our carbon-neutral status and new sustainability plan, we are seriously upping our game to deliver even more for the environment.

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‘And we shouldn’t stop. We’re constantly researching and I firmly believe this is only the beginning. It’s about changing expectations and habits and I hope other vegetable growers will follow suit.’