Capturing sustainability supply chain data for crop and livestock products is remarkably difficult. This is why, in 2008, market leaders Unilever decided to start working with others (initially just the Sustainable Food Laboratory in Vermont and the University of Aberdeen) to develop an Excel-based tool aimed at making it easy for producers to calculate on-farm greenhouse gas emissions.
The Cool Farm Tool: a short history
First described in a 2011 paper in Environmental Modelling and Software , the Excel-based model was named the ‘Cool Farm Tool’ (the winning entry from a Doodle poll of the paper’s authors and colleagues), a name that has survived many iterations of the tool.
In less than a decade, this agricultural triumvirate has metamorphosed into an alliance of more than 35 companies that span the supply chain from big brands such as PepsiCo, Nestlé and Kellogg’s to global agri-businesses such as Olam and Syngenta as well as research organizations, industry bodies and NGOs.
In 2012, Anthesis became involved when the emerging Cool Farm Alliance (CFA) wanted to explore taking the Cool Farm Tool online. Our combined expertise in carbon accounting, agriculture and software development made us an ideal choice for the job and, soon after, we fully committed to the project by becoming members of the CFA.
Taking the CFT online has led to explosive growth in both user numbers and functionality. There are currently more than 2,700 registered users with 20 or so new registrations each week. Whilst the greenhouse gas model that underpins the CFT has continued to become more accurate and relevant, the range of metrics has also expanded to include biodiversity and water.
The goals of the CFT have, in contrast, changed little. The aim remains to provide a tool which is industry-backed, farmer-friendly, globally applicable and strives to incorporate the best science. As with the Excel spreadsheet, the CFT also remains free for farmers.
This year’s annual Cool Farm Alliance meeting, to be held in New College, Oxford (down the road from our East Oxford offices), will be the biggest ever and brings together a healthy mix of business, academics and NGOs to decide the future development plan for the Cool Farm Tool.
I will be there with colleagues (including CFT lead developer Carl van Tonder) presenting some exciting new developments as well as catching up with several clients pondering on whether the CFT is the right solution for them. I will also begin talking technical with other agricultural software providers excited by the prospect of cross-platform integration and the harvesting of big data.
With the sustainable management of food supply chains continuing to move up the agenda, the future of the Cool Farm Tool looks very bright. And, yes, very cool.
Find out more at: www.coolfarmtool.org
 Hillier, JG., Walter, C., Malin, D., Garcia-Suarez, T., Mila-i-Canals, L. & Smith, P. (2011). ‘A farm-focused calculator for emissions from crop and livestock production’. Environmental Modelling and Software, vol 26, no. 9, pp. 1070-1078.
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