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Potato seed provider HZPC is looking at how to embed more sustainability in its supply chain. But that is not all: CEO Gerard Backx tells us the company is also trying to breed better potatoes.

How are you making your potato seed business more sustainable?

I had a lot of problems to solve in the beginning, and we only really started to work on corporate social responsibility 10 years ago. When I thought about what we could do, my initial feeling was that seeds are a food source — so there isn’t much to improve upon.

Potatoes are a very sustainable product to begin with because they produce the biggest amount of food with the smallest amount of water. They grow in a very short time — sometimes as short as 90 days, compared with 150 days for cereals — which means you’re using less water.

But actually, we can do quite a lot more. In our buildings, for instance, we can look at reducing energy use, waste, and water use. We also consider the energy footprint of our transport vessels when shipping seeds across the world.

But that’s still not how you can really distinguish yourself as far as corporate social responsibility (CSR) is concerned. What we can contribute are new varieties that can help to improve environmental impact in the future.

We try to develop different disease resistances to make sure that our potatoes can be grown without or with a very reduced amount of pesticides. Of course, yield is important, too, because if you can produce more product on the same amount of land with the same amount of energy, then you are more sustainable.

What was it like implementing sustainability programs at HZPC? Is your industry on board with CSR?

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I believe that good sustainability thinking and profit generation go hand in hand. And it didn’t cost us a huge amount, but it is difficult to balance the cost.

The other big difficulty was changing people’s mindsets — both employees within the organization and our farmers’ in the supply chain. If their thinking is restricted to short-term costs, and they organize logistics by buying the cheapest containers or trucks, then that is not always good for the company’s sustainability objectives.

But if you say you want to go for the best, you have to define what that is first, and it needs to be very well discussed and understood by all stakeholders. 

The processing industry, for example, for French fries, is putting a lot of thought into CSR because the industry is consumer-facing, and companies such as McDonald’s are therefore promoting the standard in the supply chain.

What are some of the latest innovations in seed potatoes? 

The big markets are not changing that much, but we’ve brought new concepts to the market, such as colored potatoes, which are especially appreciated around Christmas.

Another example is the low-carb French fry. We are not in the French fry business because we are a seed potato company, but someone who is diabetic came to us and asked whether it was …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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