This week, the company unveiled its year three results from its multi-year, multi-million-dollar soil health research program. Launched in 2017, the soil health initiative brings together experts and academics to build soil health programs to benefit farms and communities across the Danone North America portfolio. Now completing its third year, the research program has nearly tripled to more than 82,000 acres, inclusive of 28,000 organic acres, across the US and Canada, and has recently expanded into almond orchards in the central valley of California.
Nicholas Camu, vice president of agriculture at Danone North America said, "At Danone, we believe that regenerative agriculture – a series of innovative farming practices that help to lock carbon in the ground where it belongs – is a key solution to tackling climate change. We are proud to be making real progress with our regenerative farming partnerships and that, together with our farmers, we are leading the way with the most comprehensive program of its type in the US. We hope our work inspires others to join and drive an even bigger impact."
The goal of Danone's soil health initiative is to improve organic matter in soils, leading to increased carbon sequestration and improved yields, reduce chemical use, restore biodiversity, and enhance soil water holding capacity, leading to improved farm economic resilience over the long-term.
In year three of the five-year soil health program, Danone North America evaluated progress with a focus on five key areas of regenerative agriculture: soil health, biodiversity, water, carbon and economy & productivity. The company partners with Sustainable Environmental Consultants and its EcoPractices platform to conduct a field-level sustainability analysis and report on soil health and related goals, leading to continuous improvement on enrolled farms. The year three assessment revealed performance updates in five environmental impact areas.
Protecting and restoring soil: In the third year of the program to enhance organic matter in soils, farmer partners planted cover crops on 64% of the program acreage versus the national average of 5%, and practiced reduced or no till management practices on 77% of the program acreage versus the national average of 33%. The results showed 93% of the fields in the program had a positive soil conditioning index value in the third year of the program.
Fostering biodiversity with species, varieties and wildlife: To support wildlife habitat and pollinators, like bees and butterflies, which are critical to agriculture – and ensure a more resilient and sustainable supply for farmer partners – Danone North America doubled the number of cover crop and cash crop species, up to 32, including grasses, legumes and brassicas to promote crop diversity.
Preserving and protecting water systems: This involved enhancing soil water holding capacity through improved soil health management and protecting water supply through technologies such as soil moisture probes, filter strips and saturated buffers.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon: To date, Danone North America's soil health program has reduced more than 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and sequestered more than 20,000 tons of carbon through regenerative soil health practices, progressing efforts toward its global net zero carbon by 2050 goal.
Ensuring ongoing viability: The program monitors improved yields and efficiency, and supports the farmer economic value proposition, achieving lower input costs associated with reduced nutrient application, supporting farm economic resiliency as a result of regenerative agriculture practices.
In 2020, the program grew by 64%, enabling Danone North America to continue supporting farmers in implementing innovative farm management practices. Over the next two years, the company aims to collaboratively establish goals with farmer partners, pilot innovative technologies to drive change, launch industry leading tools and programs to encourage greater regenerative management adoption, finance projects to accelerate more impact, and achieve enrollment of 100,000 acres under the regenerative agriculture program.
"We're now three years into our five-year soil health research program and have established a solid foundation of research and data down to the individual field level. Our farmer partners are very receptive and engaged in our program, and this year we welcomed several new farmer partners to the program with the expansion into almond orchards and increasing our acres with organic dairies," said Ariel Wildenauer Desmarais, senior director of agricultural sourcing, Danone North America.
"Over the next two years, we look forward to taking our findings, quantitative outcomes, and improvement plans, to increase regenerative agriculture practices in the field and launch a comprehensive financial investment and impact model that will support farmers and their partners, confirming lasting impact – both economically and environmentally."
One of the farms active in the soil health program over the last three years is VanTilburg Farms in northwestern Ohio, a co-owner of MVP Dairy, LLC. Boyd VanTilburg started farming in 1902 with 80 acres, and today his great-grandsons, Matt, Kyle and Luke VanTilburg, are now farming over 4,000 acres of non-GMO crops for MVP Dairy, LLC, all of which are part of the Danone North America soil health program.
"As a family that has been farming for more than 100 years, we are committed to using conservation practices to preserve the land for generations to come," said Kyle VanTilburg of VanTilburg Farms and MVP Dairy, LLC.
"We are fortunate to work directly with Danone North America to continuously assess and improve the soil health of our farm, allowing us to build-in regenerative agriculture practices to drive returns over the long term. We are proud of the progress to-date from this comprehensive program and encourage others to join us and secure both the financial and environmental future of their farms."