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Cocoa-shell fertilizer: Nestle and Cargill team on regenerative agriculture

CCm Technologies will transform cocoa shells discarded at a Cargill factory into low-carbon fertilizer pellets for wheat farmers.

A pile of cocoa shells.

A pile of cocoa shells. Source: Shutterstock/Kaiskynet Studio

Food giants Nestle and Cargill have teamed up on a pioneering new scheme that will take cocoa shells discarded from a chocolate factory and transform them into low-carbon fertilizer.  

Announcing the tie-up, the companies said they were aiming to produce 7,000 tonnes of low-carbon fertilizer that will be offered to farmers that supply Nestle UK & Ireland's breakfast cereals and pet food factories.

U.K. startup CCm Technologies is to provide the technology for the scheme, building on its recent work with Tesco and PepsiCo to accelerate the roll out of low-carbon fertilizer products made from waste materials. The company has pioneered a technology that combines gases captured from anaerobic digesters or industrial power plants with fibrous material from food waste and sewage sludge and ammonia and phosphates recovered from wastewater to produce sustainable fertilizers.

In this instance, cocoa shells discarded by a Cargill cocoa processing factory in York will be transformed into fertilizer pellets and supplied to arable farmers that work with Nestle.

Over the coming two years, the partners will measure the resulting emissions reduction, soil health and crop yield performance of the low-carbon fertilizer compared to emissions-intensive conventional products.

If successful, the scheme should produce enough low-carbon fertilizer to cover a quarter of Nestle's fertilizer use for wheat in the U.K., significantly reducing the emissions generated across the food giant's supply chain.

We've compared 2 parts of the field, 1 which used the cocoa shell fertilizer and 1 which used the conventional fertilizer, and there is no significant difference in the yield, so we can see that it works.

Matt Ryan, regeneration lead at Nestle UK & Ireland, described the project as "a small, but very meaningful step towards a net zero future, where farmers, local enterprises and nature all stand to benefit."

"Farmers often find themselves to be among the first groups to be exposed to global issues, and these risks are then borne by the food system we all depend upon," he said. "We have to find ways to build more resilience into the system and optimizing our use of natural resources is a critical part of this."

Pawel Kisielewski, CEO of CCm Technologies, hailed the scheme as a template for how large corporates could collaborate with suppliers to reduce the environmental footprint of agricultural supply chains. "Moving to a more sustainable world involves creating partnerships that think about waste differently," he said. "CCm's technology enables many of the biggest players across agriculture and the food sector to give waste generated from routine food manufacturing a second lease of life as valuable low-emission sustainable fertilizer. This benefits farmer, customer and planet."

A trial volume of cocoa shells has already been pelletized by CCm Technologies, the companies said, with preliminary tests of the resulting low-carbon fertilizer currently taking place on arable farms in Suffolk and Northamptonshire.

Richard Ling, farm manager at Rookery Farm, Wortham in Norfolk, said the farm had successfully grown a winter wheat crop using the new fertilizer.

"We've compared two parts of the field, one which used the cocoa shell fertilizer and one which used the conventional fertilizer, and there is no significant difference in the yield, so we can see that it works," he said. "We are really reassured with the results and are looking at running further trials. It's a step change to be able to use a fertilizer made from a waste stream and see the same results as using a conventional product."

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