Arla studies the potential of regenerative dairy farming

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.

The dairy cooperative said it is looking to collect more data and knowledge on how dairy production can help improve soil biology, carbon capture, water quality and biodiversity through methods regenerative agriculture.

The first step is to establish a pilot program in partnership with regenerative agriculture experts from FAI farms and other organizations. A total of 24 pilot farmers selected from five countries (including six in the UK) will be trained to implement various regenerative methods, and the results as well as data collection will provide insight into how regenerative methods can be applied to different dairy production systems. and their impact on climate and nature.

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. In addition to this, they will take soil samples, which will be analyzed by a third-party lab to establish a benchmark for soil carbon. Arla said organic farmers will ensure 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.

Regenerative agriculture has caught the attention of producers, retailers, researchers and consumers as one of the responses to the 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 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.

“One of the reasons we want to explore regenerative agriculture is to obtain data-based evidence of the use of regenerative methods on dairy farms. Although we devote our full attention to reducing our carbon emissions, the positive impact that farmers can create as stewards of the land has not yet been fully scientifically proven and we want to gain more scientific knowledge. to enable dairy farmers to take the right measures for the future, “Said Joanna Lawrence, Agri-Food Business Support Manager, Arla Group.

To help explore and define the impact of regenerative dairy farming, 24 Arla farmers from the UK, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark will become pilot farmers for four years. They are a mix of conventional farmers with both grazed and fully housed systems and organic farmers.

Arla and UK-based FAI Farms, an agribusiness research, data and advisory firm, will train and coach the 24 pilot farmers to manage their farms in a regenerative way. Farmers will help collect data and evaluate various methods to understand the effect they may have on soil health, carbon capture, biodiversity, ecosystem processes, farm profitability and welfare. be farmers.

Claire Hill, Director of Regenerative Agriculture at FAI Farms, said: “Arla is by far the biggest partner we have in regenerative agriculture in the dairy sector. Their level of ambition goes beyond anything we’ve seen so far in the industry and there is no pilot program with this depth. What’s really exciting is that we’re going to be working with different farmers in different countries, each working on a unique farm, and the data we collect along the way will be so insightful. This can dramatically increase our knowledge of what regenerative transition looks like, the challenges, and the benefits that will help us understand how more farmers can begin their journey. “

By having a mix of dairy systems and countries in the network of pilot farms and creating the tool, Arla aims to promote the results and learnings among the 9,400 Arla farmers in the cooperative and share ideas in the entire industry through collaborations with OP2B, C-SEQU and BIOCHAR.

Regarding soil health, farmers will undertake a soil carbon assessment to create a baseline to measure further improvements in carbon level. Soil samples will be analyzed by a third party lab for KPIs including: organic matter, organic carbon, total carbon, total nitrogen, and carbon: nitrogen ratio.

Arla said at least five of 22 soil health measures must be in place on the farm.

Starting in 2022, farmers will conduct an annual self-assessment of soil health indicators such as soil odor analysis, ease of spading, and earthworm counts.

Regarding biodiversity, there will be an annual self-assessment of activities in four biodiversity conservation areas. A minimum of seven of the 33 biodiversity conservation measures must be in place on the farm.

With the network of pilot farms, Arla said he aimed to provide all pilot farms with training and individual support in regenerative agriculture; measure, monitor and document the impact of regenerative agricultural practices on the ecosystems of pilot farms; understand and document any changes in behavior of the members of the pilot farm; strengthen the understanding currently lacking in dairy production systems of what regenerative farming means and looks like, learning in the context of a variety of management systems and countries; and share knowledge and findings through panel discussions, case studies and project progress reports.

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