Collaborative initiative aims to improve sustainability of EU dairy farming

shutterstock_199480991 [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Eight agricultural sector leaders have announced Farming for Generations, a global collaboration to support dairy farmers to adopt regenerative agricultural practices that preserve and renew our planet’s resources, respect animal welfare and ensure the long-term economic viability of farms for the next generation.

Farming for Generations, which will run over the next three years, will initially work with 25 dairy farms in the EU, USA and Russia, to identify best practice solutions and innovations across different farming models, farm sizes and geographies in order to gather cross-sector insights, refine best practices and develop new approaches. This number will increase to 2500 farms after two years. 

Viable and replicable solutions will then be shared and scaled up within the full network of the alliance partners. 

The collaboration, launched last year, comes on the back of a growing recognition that dairy farmers need to change their production practices in order to meet consumer expectations and demands for sustainable production and address a range of environmental and health challenges associated with agriculture.

For instance, a recent study by the FAIRR Initiative, a global investor network which aims to raise awareness about the risks and opportunities caused by intensive livestock production, concluded that the conditions under which meat, eggs and dairy products are produced for the global market are still “catastrophic for the most part”, and contradict the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

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The EU’s dairy sector is the second biggest agricultural sector in the bloc, representing more than 12% of total agricultural output. 

According to the European Commission’s agricultural outlook for 2019-30, published on 10 December 2019, demand for dairy products, especially for cheese, is expected to continue to rise, leading to even higher EU milk production for 2019-30.

Furthermore, a ‘Fact Book’ produced as part of the three-year campaign ‘sustainable dairy in Europe’, launched by the European Milk Forum and co-financed by the Commission, found that current production of milk and production of meat linked with milk accounts for 4% of the global emissions and that, from this, the production of milk emits 2.9%.

In a recent interview with EURACTIV, Henri Moore, vice president of global responsibility at Corteva Agriscience, concurred, saying that milk production is a “big issue” in terms of its greenhouse gas footprint.

A recent European Parliamentary Research Service report therefore concluded that “resilience and sustainability are keywords for the future of the sector”. It said this will be achieved with innovation as a way to reconcile the need for farmers to earn a decent living, consumer demand for affordable and quality dairy products, and environmental and animal health requirements.

However, this is a complex challenge which requires the support of the whole food chain.

With that in mind, Farming for Generations, spearheaded by global food industry leader Danone, draws on the expertise of leaders from the whole agricultural value chain. 

This includes animal health and welfare companies MSD Animal Health, Neogen and FutureCow; animal nutrition and health company DSM; crop nutrition leader Yara; crop science company Corteva Agriscience; and artificial intelligence agri-food start-up Connecterra.

Netherlands-based Wageningen University and Research, renowned for its food and food production research, will also be a research and advisory partner. 

Furthermore, farmers will be involved in each step of the way, ensuring that practices are viable and suited to local customs and geographic specificities.

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Commenting on this initiative, Yann Gael Rio, vice president of milk and farming at Danone, said that “regenerative agriculture is a solution to many of the environmental and health challenges we face today”. 

He added that Farming for Generations “brings together expertise along the whole agricultural value chain with the collective know-how of farmers to ensure any solutions and innovations are tried and tested on the ground, capable of delivering real impact at scale, and helping to build the sustainable food systems of tomorrow.” 

During the interview with EURACTIV, Moore said this partnership is a good example of how agricultural companies from across the sector can work together to “improve sustainability while also looking at ways to create value across the food chain”.

Henri Moore, vice president of global responsibility at Corteva Agriscience [Corteva]

She said that all members of the consortium are offering up their most innovative solutions towards improving the sustainability of the dairy sector, including crop breeding and protection techniques and digital solutions to allow for closer monitoring.

For Corteva, this includes innovative products which fixes nitrogen in the soil and crop breeding techniques which improve the quality of silage for the cows. This silage is more easily digestible by the cows which not only improves their health but also means they produce less methane emissions, thus contributing less to climate change.

Moore added that this is a “unique and interesting initiative” and that she expects to see more of such collaborations in the future.

She also said this kind of collaboration can help farmers comply with the Green Deal and new sustainability requirements, and ultimately help to reward farmers for applying sustainable practices.

Asked about Corteva’s expectations for the new Commission, Moore said Corteva wants an “enabling policy environment for the things that we think we can bring to agriculture that help to meet sustainability goals.”

She said this included an open approach which embraces new technologies and voiced hope there would be a “more practical, reasonable and science-based approach to new technologies and innovation”, which will help to reduce the footprint of agriculture and enable farmers and consumers to reduce their environmental footprint through innovation.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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