Arla dairy farmers given vital environmental know how through new partnership with scientists
Arla Foods, the UK’s leading dairy co-operative, has today announced a new partnership with the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH). Through the collaboration, Arla UK 360 farmers are working to trial a customised version of the UKCEH’s newly launched Environmental Planner (E-Planner) tool, with adjustments specifically for dairy farmers.
Using the newly launched Environmental Planner tool, dairy farmers will—for the first time—be able to make science-based decisions on which agri-environment options to introduce on farms, and identify where sustainability initiatives are likely to perform best.
The tool is able to analyse satellite imagery and environmental datasets for selected Arla farms, assessing the suitability of unproductive or hard-to-farm areas of land for four agri-environment interventions. These are: planting flower-rich pollinator habitats; creating woodland; protecting water resources from pollution; and sowing winter bird food. The Arla farms additionally trialled wet grassland restoration and grassland productivity mapping. In practice, this will mean farmers can gauge the likelihood of success of the different environmental interventions across their farmland and select the most suitable areas to enhance. The tool works by calculating environmental factors that affect the suitability of the land for different environmental options, such as proximity to watercourses, south facing slopes or shading.
David Christensen has been one of Arla’s farmer owners testing the technology at the Arla UK 360 innovation farm. He explains: “The E-Planner tool is really helping to modernise the way we make management decisions for land that might have been previously considered unproductive in terms of sustainability and resilience. At the click of a button, we’re able to look at how the land behaves over time and can therefore make more educated decisions on how best to use all areas of the farm at key times of the year. It’s going to make an enormous difference to many farmers and the world around us.”
The potential impacts of empowering farmers with the new technology and information are enormous for achieving sustainability. While Arla’s dairy farmers have, in line with agriculture policy, implemented environmental measures for some time, access to scientific data and technology has traditionally favoured arable farmers. In testing and adapting UKCEH’s tool for dairy farmers, the challenges specific to dairy farming and field management can be addressed.
Graham Wilkinson, Agricultural Director at Arla Foods adds: “Farmers simply can’t be expected to automatically know which environmental measures best suit the land around them. With environmental measures on farm compulsory for all of Arla’s dairy farmers, we hope that in working with the scientists at UKCEH we can ensure that they have access to the tools and resources that enable the best decisions. Trials and application of technology like this are just one of the ways the Arla UK 360 programme is revolutionising our industry; on farm and through collaborative working practices.”-
The changes will not only serve farmers on an individual basis, but also feed into national sustainable farming targets. The identified agri-environment options are expected to attract farming subsidy under the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, a scheme that replaces the Common Agriculture Policy.
John Redhead, Senior Spatial Ecologist, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), who led the development of the E-Planner tool, says: “This is a big step forward in how we can advise farmers about environmental decisions. Historically, it’s always been a challenge to bring together environmental information from digital data and farmer-specific local knowledge. The great thing about the E-Planner tool is its ability to present complex and detailed environmental information in a way that’s easy for farmers to access and explore , enabling them to make the best possible decisions.”
On completion of the trial, Arla will be looking to make the revised tool available to all its 360 farmers with a longer-term plan to share with all Arla dairy farmers. In addition to the technology, Arla has recently shared factsheets with farmers, developed with the support of scientists and agronomists which help farmers see best practice and share knowledge on how to implement environmental measures.
Notes to editors
About Arla Foods
Arla Foods is a global dairy company and co-operative owned by 10,300 dairy farmers with circa 2,500 of whom are British. With production facilities in 11 countries and sales offices in a further 30, Arla is the world’s fifth largest dairy company and largest supplier of organic dairy products. Arla has a total of more than 18,000 colleagues and its products are sold under the well-known brands Arla, Lurpak and Castello in more than 100 countries.
Arla Foods UK is the largest dairy company in the country and is home to leading dairy brands Anchor, Arla Cravendale, and Arla Lactofree. As well as being a leading supplier of fresh milk, number one in butter, spreads and cream, Arla is the UK’s largest cheese manufacturer. It has also built the world’s largest fresh milk facility located at Aylesbury that later this year will become the first net zero carbon site of its kind. The UK business has a team of approximately 3,500 colleagues located at its dairies, creameries, distribution centres and head office.
About the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH)
The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is a centre for excellence in environmental science across water, land and air. Our 500 scientists work to understand the environment, how it sustains life and the human impact on it – so that together, people and nature can prosper. They have a long history of investigating, monitoring and modelling environmental change, and our science makes a positive difference in the world. The issues they address addresses include: air pollution, biodiversity, biosecurity, chemical risks, extreme weather events, droughts, floods, greenhouse gas emissions, land use, soil health, sustainable agriculture, sustainable ecosystems, sustainable macronutrient use, and water resources management.