The dairy cooperative will explore regenerative dairy farming practices on 24 pilot farms and create data-driven proof points of their impact on nature and climate. At the same time, more than 900 organic Arla farmers will measure their soil carbon content and register practices that promote biodiversity.
“The program runs for four years. One of our biggest challenges is that while there is a general consensus that improving soil health and biodiversity are core elements in regenerative farming, there is no universally agreed definition of the approach,” Janne Hansson, chairman of Arla’s Organic Chairman Council and Arla board member, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Furthermore, there are very few scientific examples of regenerative methods being implemented on dairy livestock farms in Europe that farmers can use as guidance. Arla wants to be part of filling this important data gap using the experience and knowledge of its farmer owners.”
24 pilot farmers across five countries
To help explore and define the impact of regenerative dairy farming, 24 Arla farmers from the UK, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark have agreed to be pilot farmers for a period of four years. They are a mix of conventional farmers with both grazed and fully housed systems and organic farmers.
Arla’s own farming experts and external experts from FAI Farms – a research, data and consultancy business within the agri-food sector – will train and coach the 24 pilot farmers to manage their farm regeneratively.
The farmers will help gather data and assess various methods to understand what effect they can have on soil health, carbon capture, biodiversity, ecosystem processes, farm profitability and farmer well-being.
At FAI Farms, Regenerative Agriculture Director Claire Hill is heading the project, which will collect data from soil samples from the 916 organic Arla farms to be analyzed by a third party laboratory for setting up a baseline of their soil carbon.
“Arla is by far the biggest partner we have on regenerative farming within dairy,” she remarks.
“[This initiative] can significantly increase our knowledge of what regenerative transition looks like, the challenges and benefits which will help us understand how more farmers can get started on their journey.”
Starting next year, the farmers will also self-assess soil health indicators such as soil smell, spading ease and earthworm counts.
Farmer-led biodiversity activities
Regenerative agriculture has been gaining attention from producers, retailers, researchers and consumers as one of the responses to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.
In 2020, Arla joined One Planet Business for Biodiversity, an international cross-sectorial, action-oriented business coalition on biodiversity with a specific focus on agriculture.
Arla is joined by other industry giants including PepsiCo and Nestlé, who have each launched their own initiatives to scale regenerative agriculture across their supply chains in recent months.
Also in this field, EIT food recently partnered with the new European Carbon+ Farming Coalition to promote regenerative agriculture practices by facilitating educational workshops and “test farms” for piloting new agri-tech ideas from unique start-ups.
“As a farmer-owned dairy cooperative, we have a huge interest in understanding how we can reduce the negative and maximize the positive impact of dairy farming,” says Hansson.
“While we have full attention on reducing our negative impact, the positive impact we can create as stewards of the land has not yet been thoroughly scientifically proven. We want to secure more science-based knowledge to enable dairy farmers to take the right action for the future.”