Arla explores the potential of regenerative dairy farming

The Arla Foods dairy cooperative will explore regenerative dairy farming practices on six pilot farms in the UK and create data-driven evidence of their impact on nature and climate.

At the same time, the cooperative activates all of its 114 Arla organic farmers in the UK to measure the carbon content of their soils and record practices that promote biodiversity.

Arla is taking two concrete farmer-led steps to gain more data and knowledge on how dairy farming can help improve soil biology, carbon capture, water quality and biodiversity through regenerative agriculture methods.

The first step is to set up a pilot program created in partnership with experts in regenerative agriculture.

A total of 24 pilot farmers selected from five countries (including six in the UK) will be trained and mentored to implement various regeneration methods, and their learnings combined with data collection will provide knowledge on how regeneration methods can be applied to different dairy products. agricultural systems and their impact on climate and nature.

The second step is a commitment from the cooperative’s 916 organic farmers, who are responsible for an annual production of 1,000 million kg of organic milk, the largest pool of organic milk in the world.

Arla’s 114 organic farmers in the UK are part of this commitment.

Starting this year, they will self-assess and record their farm’s biodiversity activities once a year to generate data.

On top of that, they’ll take soil samples, which will be analyzed by a third-party lab to establish a benchmark for their soil’s carbon.

In addition, organic farmers will ensure that a number of soil health and biodiversity measures are activated on their farms.

They will have access to a catalog of levers including information on how to measure and manage improvements. From 2022, they will also self-assess soil health indicators, for example by testing soil odor, ease of spading and the number of earthworms.

“As a farmer-owned dairy cooperative, a number of farmers have been exploring regenerative farming methods for some time and, motivated by their enthusiasm, we decided to take a broader approach as a cooperative, led by organic farmers and a group of pilot farmers, ”says Janne Hansson, Arla board member.

Regenerative agriculture has caught the attention of producers, retailers, researchers and consumers as one of the responses to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Although there is a general consensus that improving soil health and biodiversity are essential elements of regenerative agriculture, there is no universally accepted definition of the approach.

In addition, there are very few scientific examples of regenerative methods being implemented on dairy farms in the UK and the rest of Europe that farmers can use as a guide.

Actions that all Arla organic farmers will take in 2021:

On soil health:

• A soil carbon assessment to create a baseline against which to measure further improvements in carbon level. Soil samples will be analyzed by a third party laboratory for KPIs including: organic matter, organic carbon, total carbon, total nitrogen and Carbon: Nitrogen ratio.

• At least 5 of 22 soil health measures must be in place on the farm.

• From 2022: An annual self-assessment of soil health indicators, eg soil odor test, ease of digging and counting earthworms.

On biodiversity:

• An annual self-assessment of activities in four biodiversity conservation areas.

• At least 7 of the 33 biodiversity conservation measures must be in place on the farm.

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