Dairy cooperative Arla Foods is to explore regenerative dairy farming practices on six pilot farms in the UK and create data-driven proof points of their impact on nature and climate.

At the same time, the cooperative is activating all its 114 organic Arla farmers in the UK to measure their soil carbon content and register practices that promote biodiversity.

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

The first step is to establish a pilot programme created in partnership with regenerative farming experts.

In total, 24 selected pilot farmers across five countries (of which six are in the UK) will be trained and coached to implement various regenerative methods, and their learnings combined with data collection will build knowledge of how regenerative methods can be applied to different dairy farming systems and how they impact 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 world’s largest organic milk pool.

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

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

In addition to this, they will collect soil samples, which will be analysed by a third party laboratory to establish a baseline for their soil carbon.

Furthermore, the organic farmers will guarantee that a number of soil health and biodiversity measures are activated on their farms.

They will get access to a lever catalogue including information about how to measure and manage improvements. From 2022, they will also self-assess soil health indicators e.g. testing soil smell, spading ease and earthworm counts.

“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 to this as a cooperative, spearheaded by the organic farmers and a group of pilot farmers,” says member of Arla’s board of directors Janne Hansson.

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.

While there is a general consensus that improvement of soil health and biodiversity are core elements in regenerative farming, there is no universally agreed definition of the approach.

Furthermore, there are very few scientific examples of regenerative methods being implemented on dairy livestock farms in the UK and the rest of Europe that farmers can use as guidance.

Actions that all organic Arla farmers will implement in 2021:

On soil health:

• A carbon assessment of the soil to create a baseline for measuring further improvements in the carbon level. The soil samples will be analysed by a third party laboratory for KPIs including: organic matter, organic carbon, total carbon, total nitrogen and Carbon:Nitrogen ratio.

• A minimum of 5 out of 22 soil health measures must be in place on the farm.

• From 2022: An annual self-assessment of soil health indicators e.g. testing soil smell, spading ease and earthworm counts.

On biodiversity:

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

• A minimum of 7 out of 33 biodiversity conservation measures must be in place on the farm.