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McCormick Blog

Purpose-Led Performance April 10, 2023

Leading the Research into Net Zero Black Pepper

black pepper farmers

McCormick has committed to achieving Net Zero by 2050. Our near-term Purpose-Led Performance goals are time-bound and quantifiable, however, while each has its own methodology for data capture and tracking, some are intrinsically linked. An example of this is the overlap between our goal to sustainably source 100% of our branded top five iconic raw materials (black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, red pepper and vanilla) while simultaneously achieving a 42% reduction in scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions. Regenerative agriculture practices go some way towards linking the two.

black pepper farmersOur supply chain is incredibly complex with over 14,000 raw materials sourced from approximately 85 countries. To add to the complexity, our herbs and spices are largely grown by smallholder farmers with farm lots approximately one acre in area. For comparison, the size of an average farm in the USA is around 450 acres. Therefore, in order to implement regenerative agriculture practices in our supply chains, we need to work with thousands of individual spice farmers. Our Agricultural Sciences Program Manager, Michael Austin, Ph.D., is doing just that.

Over the last two years, Michael has been working with our in-country partners to gather and test hundreds of soil samples and provide tailored recommendations to improve soil health. “It’s all about the fundamentals,” says Michael, “firstly we need to baseline, take soil samples, and understand what the challenges and opportunities for improvement are.” 

Black pepper was identified as having the largest carbon footprint amongst our iconic raw materials and therefore the first supply chain Michael focused on: “There’s around 1,500 farmers and they’re spread out through Vietnam in terrain that’s tough to access. It’s a whole different ballgame. But we’re taking and analyzing these samples and developing soil health programs, and healthy soils equal healthy plants.” Soil reviews were also rolled out in Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, India and Madagascar to cover all five iconic raw materials, providing regional, and in some cases even farm-level, soil health recommendations.

Healthy soils are not only great for plants, but also play an important role in climate change mitigation by storing carbon, a key component of regenerative agriculture. Our newest initiative in Vietnam links our healthy soils program with McCormick’s Net Zero ambition - we are on a quest to create a net zero black pepper farm.


black pepper farmers

Healthy soils are not only great for plants, but also play an important role in climate change mitigation by storing carbon, a key component of regenerative agriculture.

At the outset, we partnered with our sustainability consultant, Quantis, to quantify the typical volume of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the cultivation of 1kg of black pepper. One of the key factors associated with driving up emissions was the use of fertilizer, in particular nitrogen-based fertilizers which are often overused by farmers. We have partnered with a local university in Vietnam to conduct research into how fertilizer can be reduced while maintaining or increasing yield, and the role that nitrogen-fixing trees and cover crops can help play in achieving a net zero farm.

“The work we have done with Quantis has shown that when nitrogen is reduced, CO2 emissions are lower. But plants need nitrogen, so we’re using nitrogenfixing trees as live poles for the black pepper vines to climb and nitrogen fixing ground cover,” explains Michael. 

The research farm is divided into multiple plots, and each plot is treated with various amounts of inputs. Data will be collected year-on-year, with recommendations made on the ideal balance of techniques to achieve optimal yield with net zero emissions. “We can make recommendations going forward that we can ultimately give back to the farmer,” says Michael. Learnings will be shared with our black pepper farmers globally with the goal of improving yield and farmer income, with the long-term aim of achieving sustainable black pepper production, applying similar approaches in other relevant supply chains, and helping McCormick to reach our Net Zero Commitment.

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