Meeting the challenges of carbon net zero farming is about being ahead of the game and “when there is a challenge, looking for the opportunity”, says global dairy co-operative Arla.
The United Kingdom-based co-op’s farmer owners are among the most climate-efficient dairy farmers in the world, and Arla has created the largest externally validated climate data sets from its dairy farms to aid the journey to carbon net zero by 2050.
Arla Foods senior manager of agriculture operations Kate Liversidge last week addressed a Beef + Lamb New Zealand webinar. She discussed market trends, environmental challenges, opportunities for Arla’s farmers and how the co-op tackles challenges with a consumer mindset.
One of the largest dairy co-ops in the world, Arla has 8956 owners in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the UK. Liversidge said sustainability is the biggest challenge the co-op faces, but “also our greatest opportunity”.
“Retailers expect producers to drive sustainable product development and consumers are demanding more sustainable choices. This is a huge opportunity to place ourselves as a trusted brand and allow us to grow with the different demands,” said Liversidge
“Arla is on a journey to demonstrate how the dairy industry can feed the world sustainably.
“Arla and our dairy farms have been working for many years to reduce CO2 emissions and use more renewable energy across our operations.”
The co-op has come a long way, with a 22% reduction in carbon emissions since 1990 equating to 1.15% of carbon emissions per kilo of milk with Arla’s carbon emission about half the global average for dairy production.
Arla operates five pilot farms setting precedents across feed efficiency, protein efficiency, animal robustness, fertiliser use and land use.
Arla supports its pilot farmer owners with rigorous climate checks through Arlagarden, a cutting-edge online platform tracking climate performance and highlighting opportunities. Since 2020 more than 16,000 climate checks have been performed, with a participation rate of more than 90%.
Communicating with farmers in the right language is key to getting them on board.
“It’s not purely talking in a carbon sense as all these things are profit drivers, so incentivise to perform in dollars, make it a business decision and incentivise as such, assuring farmers how important it is and their input and hard work is not wasted.
“Farmers’ biggest frustration is doing the admin and data and it goes into a black hole and is not used, but we are using it to sell the product and farmers can see that.”
The climate check process involves farmers carrying out annual self-assessments. This data is reported through the Arlagarden platform. Advisory visits guide farmers to improve on-farm sustainability towards the 2030 and 2050 targets, and the resulting data will show the carbon footprint of the farm.
“We use external and independent experts to validate the data so we are not marking our own homework.”
Liversidge said Arla’s early start on the road to the final destination of carbon net zero by 2050, while a nerve-racking and anxious time, has paid off.
The next step is to incentivise farmers to make the changes – without leaving them out of pocket. And then it’s about recouping the money from the market.
“We absolutely will charge a premium for branded strategy bringing premium product into the company,” said Liversidge.