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Soil health initiative by Danone North America sees meaningful results

In 2017, Danone North America launched a comprehensive soil health program to improve organic matter in soils that would increase carbon sequestration and improve yields, reduce chemical use, restore biodiversity, and enhance soil water holding capacity, to help provide dairy farms with improved, long-term economic resilience. As the company wraps up year four of its five-year initiative, an assessment reveals meaningful performance among participating dairy farms.

“At Danone North America, we understand the opportunity within our soil and the importance of regenerative practices and what they can unlock, environmentally and now financially, along with our responsibility to advance a sustainable and resilient future,” says Jennifer Simpson, Director of Agriculture, Danone North America. “While soil health is just one piece of the puzzle, we work hand-in-hand with our farmer partners to apply a tailored approach to each individual farm to help them adopt economically viable regenerative farming practices that are best for them.”

The company defines regenerative agriculture as a set of farming practices that helps protect soils, water and biodiversity, and improve animal welfare, while acknowledging the key role of farmers. These practices also are integral to Danone’s global commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Highlights of the year four program performance include:

  1. Growth in acres. The program has expanded to more than 140,000 acres across the U.S. and Canada, a 72% growth compared to year three. Dairy farms currently participating in the program supply milk for Danone North America brands such as Oikos, Two Good, and Horizon Organic, among others.
  2. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and carbon sequestered. To date, the soil health program has reduced nearly 119,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and sequestered more than 31,000 tons of carbon through regenerative soil health practices. The company continues to measure and monitor the impact these practices are having to optimize GHG reduction strategies.
  3. Protected, restored soil. The program has also prevented more than 337,000 tons of soil from erosion, resulting in nearly $3.3 million in cost avoidance for farmer partners since its inception. In addition, participating farmers planted cover crops on 51% of their acres versus the national average of 4%. They also reduced or utilized no-till management practices on 63% of the program’s acreage versus the national average of 33%.
  4. Fostered biodiversity. On-farm efforts to foster biodiversity include conserving just over 1,700 acres of grassed waterways, buffer lands, forest, and wetlands. With cover crops and crop diversity as another significant contributor to soil health and biodiversity, Danone North America partnered with farmers to grow more than 20 species, from barley and oats to alfalfa and red clover, with cover crops present on just over half of total participating farmland.
  5. Preserved, protected water systems. The program has increased use of soil moisture probes by 55% in year four, helping to ensure and ultimately enhance soil water-holding capacity through informed and improved water usage practices.

“On our farms, we see firsthand the vital role soil plays in feeding our world and the positive impact regenerative farming can have in recharging our natural resources for future generations. By working with Danone North America, we have a tremendous amount of opportunity to make an impact on our farms and the broader food system,” says Ken McCarty, Co-Owner of MVP Dairy and McCarty Family Farms.

R3 ROI Tool Unveiled

As an extension of its regenerative agriculture program, Danone North America has developed R3 (Robust, Resilient, Reliable) in collaboration with Sustainable Environmental Consultants (SEC). The web-based benchmarking and comparison tool uses farm-specific, verified data to propose targeted practices as part of SEC’s Sustainable Continuous Improvement Plan (SCIP), which is utilized to advance regenerative agriculture practices on farms. Once a practice is selected, the tool provides models with forecasted returns on investment to help farmers understand the potential financial impacts regenerative agriculture can have on their farm to enable decision making and prioritization.

Farmers using R3 have adopted the following SCIP practices:

  • No-till farming to minimize soil disturbance and help enrich soil biodiversity.
  • Planted cover crops to improve soil health, slow erosion, and attract pollinators.
  • Established buffer zones to prevent contamination between certified organic production and non-organic land.

The company plans to expand the program across North America as it continues to learn from the regenerative practices, accelerating its impact on mitigating climate change. To learn more about Danone North America’s regenerative agriculture practices, click here.

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