November 15, 2019
Arla farmers to use big data to accelerate journey towards carbon net zero
The 9,900 farmer owners behind the European dairy cooperative, Arla Foods, are accelerating their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.
Arla Foods is the first dairy company in Europe to introduce an initiative across seven countries that will triple the speed of carbon emission reductions on farm and accumulate one of the world's largest sets of externally verified climate data from dairy farming, the co-op said.
Arla Foods farmer owners are already among the most climate friendly dairy farmers in the world, producing milk with less than half the average of emissions per litre compared to global dairy production.
Now Arla Foods is introducing a new Climate Check programme and comprehensive support to all its 9,900 farmer owners in Northern Europe to fight climate impact. This will pave the way for the company to reach its ambition to reduce carbon emission by 30% by 2030 and have a neutral climate impact by 2050.
"Dairy is an excellent natural source of nutrients compared to its carbon cost, but we have a strong desire to make the balance between nutrients and CO2 even better. Arla farmers have already cut emissions by 24% since 1990, but we also recognise that it's not enough. As in any other industry, we need to do more and we need to do it faster," said Arla chairman Jan Toft Nørgaard.
The new global standardised tool for Climate Checks on farms in seven European countries builds on the successful climate check model that was introduced to Arla farmers in Denmark in 2013. The Climate Check will help the farmer identify emissions on farm and provides a clear picture of the actions farmers can take to reduce emissions further.
Each Arla farmer will input information covering everything from herd size to housing, milk volumes, feed usage and feed production, energy and fuel usage and renewable energy production.
The Climate Check programme will include a digital reporting tool, in which all farmers will submit their climate data. The data is verified by an external advisor who will visit the farm to provide advice on action plans.
As data from potentially 9,900 European dairy farms and an annual production of 14 billion litres of milk is submitted during 2020, Arla is building one of the world's largest sets of externally verified climate data from dairy farming, according to the co-op. This will be the solid foundation for benchmarking, knowledge sharing across the dairy industry and correlation analysis.
"We will be able to benchmark against our farmer colleagues on carbon footprint. But equally important, the data can be used to gain more knowledge and science-based solutions in collaboration with the agricultural sector and academic institutions. This will be important as we decide on which science-based solutions will take us to the next level in the fight against climate change," said Nørgaard.
The data captured will enable each farmer owner to see what level of carbon emissions they produce per litre of milk and identify where there is room for improvement. Arla will support its farmer owners to deliver reductions of 3% per year on average which would see Arla on track to reach its ambition to reduce carbon emission by 30% by 2030 and have a neutral climate impact by 2050. However, farmer owners who have used the earlier model have shown that it can help reduce carbon emission by up to 4% per year.
To support the farmer owners in using the new Climate Checks, Arla's board of directors has decided that farmers who sign up to the Climate Check in 2020 will be paid a financial incentive of one euro cent per kilo of milk. Based on earlier initiatives, a financial incentive has proven to be effective in supporting programme roll-outs. Nørgaard expects the vast majority of Arla farmers to sign up to the Climate Check, thereby accelerating work to reduce carbon emissions.
"Within our cooperative, we have some of the most climate-efficient farmers in the global dairy farming sector. But not all farmers have had the possibility to do the Climate Check yet. So this decision by our board releases that potential in addition to the ongoing knowledge and learning that we will all benefit from", said Nørgaard.
This announcement marks the latest in a series of sustainability measures taken by Arla and its farmer owners in the last few years. These include participating in the development of a global and scientifically approved way to measure carbon sequestration, Arla's own research to evaluate ways methane emissions might be reduced through feed choices and experimenting with ways to increase biodiversity on farm.
Between 1990 and 2015 Arla farmers have reduced their emissions by 24%. In 2013, the Climate Check tool was introduced to Danish Arla farmers and has helped accelerate reductions. Examples show that farmers have been able to reduce their emissions by up to 4% annually after using the Climate Check. The tool uses an internationally recognised methodology for carbon footprint calculations at farm level developed by the International Dairy Federation.