Arla collecting data in pilot programme
Dairy cooperative Arla Foods has taken two concrete steps to gain more data and insights on how the dairy industry can contribute to renewable, agricultural methods to improve soil biology, carbon binding, water quality and biodiversity.
The first step is to set up a pilot programme, which was developed in cooperation with experts for regenerative agriculture of consulting company FAI Farms and other specialist organisations. There are 24 selected pilot operations in five countries, including Germany, Denmark, UK, the Netherlands and Sweden, which will be trained in the application of various regenerative methods in the future for the next four years. These are conventional farmers, who operate pasture or pure stables and organised organic farmers.
Arla in-house experts as well as external experts from FAI Farms, a research and consulting company in the agricultural and food sector, will train the pilot farmers to regenerate their businesses. Farmers will help to collect data and evaluate various methods to understand, what impact their work can have on ground health, carbon binding, biodiversity, ecosystem processes, the profitability of the operation and the well-being of farmers. Their experiences as well as the collected data should provide insights on how renewable methods can be applied to various systems of dairy cattle companies in Europe, and how they affect the climate and nature.
The second step concerns 916 Europe-wide organic farmers of the cooperative, which together produce a billion kg of organic milk in a year. From this year, the Arla organic farmers will evaluate and register their measures in the field of biodiversity once a year. This allows appropriate data to be collected.
In addition, the organic farmers collect soil samples analysed by an external laboratory to determine an output value for the soil carbon of the respective operation. The organic farmers also ensure that there are a series of measures for ground health and biodiversity in their businesses. And they have access to a catalog of measures that contains information about how to achieve and measure improvements.
From 2022, the organic farmers will evaluate indicators of ground health themselves, such as testing the flooring and the number of existing earthworms.
“As a dairy owned by farmers, we have a great deal of interest in which we reduce the negative effects of the dairy industry and maximise the positive. A number of our farmers have been dealing with practices of regenerative agriculture for some time. Because of the enthusiasm, we have decided to pursue a broader approach as a cooperative, which is cited by the organic farmers and some pilot farms,” says farmer Walter Lausen, who is a German member of the supervisory board of Arla Foods and chairman of the Organic Council for the Central Europe region.
Regenerative agriculture has gained attention from producers, retail, research and consumers, particularly as one of the answers to the double challenge of climate change and the loss of biodiversity. There is a general consensus that improving ground health and biodiversity are core elements of regenerative agriculture. At the same time, there is no generally recognised definition of this approach.
In addition, there are only a few, scientific examples of regenerative methods in the dairy industry in which farmers can now orientate. Arla Foods wants to help close this data gap by using the experience and knowledge of its farmers.
“Our goal is to obtain data-based evidence for the successful use of regenerative methods in dairy farming. While we focus on reducing the negative effects of our work, the positive effect we can obtain as farmers on our areas is not yet thoroughly proven scientifically. We want to gain more scientifically sound findings so that dairy farmers can take the right measures for the future,” Lausen says.
Claire Hill, director of Regenerative Agriculture at FAI Farms, is looking forward to participating in the project and access to the data of the 24 pilot enterprises and the soil samples of the 916 organic farms of Arla Foods.
“Arla is the biggest partner from the milk sector, with which we work together in the field of regenerative agriculture. There is no pilot programme in the industry so comprehensive. The exciting thing is that we will work together with farmers in different countries. Every company is unique and the collected data is very enlightening. We can make our knowledge of how a transition to a regenerative agriculture can look great and significantly expand through the associated challenges and benefits. This will help us to understand, how more farmers can take this path,” says Hill.
Measures that Arla will implement in 2021 on its organic farms:
- An assessment of the carbon content in the ground to provide a starting point for the measurement of further improvements of carbon content. The soil samples are examined by an external laboratory, among other things, the following key figures: organic substance, organic carbon, total carbon, total nitrogen and the carbon-nitrogen ratio.
- At least 5 out of 22 ground health measures must be present in the enterprises.
- From 2022: annual self-control of indicators for ground health, such as testing the floor noise and the number of earthworms.
- An annual self-control of the measures in four areas to maintain biodiversity.
- At least 7 out of 33 measures for the maintenance of biodiversity must be present in each operation.
Arla would like to reach the new network of 24 pilot companies in five countries:
- All pilot enterprises receive training and personal support through experts for regenerative agriculture.
- Measurement, observation and documentation of the impact of renewable agricultural measures on the ecosystems of pilot businesses.
- Understand and document possible behavioral changes in pilot companies.
- Build knowledge about what regenerative agriculture in the dairy industry and how this looks concretely; learn from a variety of management systems and countries.
- Exchange of knowledge and findings through specialist discussions, case studies and project progress reports.
- Combine the knowledge of farmers with the knowledge of the external experts to identify common regenerative principles and practices that could be taken over by the Arla farmers on a large scale.