The companies said the project, which is the first of its kind, establishes a comprehensive and scientifically robust soil carbon baseline for First Milk farms, and will carry out intensive soil carbon analysis at a fraction of the usual cost. The approach allows soil carbon sequestration to be quantified over time to support the net zero ambitions of First Milk farmers and customers.
The initial phases of the project are being conducted in partnership with Nestlé, which is supporting this as part of its climate journey roadmap, building scientific data, with partners, to drive progress in carbon reduction through its supply chain.
The project will see high intensity, field-by-field soil carbon stock quantified across 40 farms, with the intention to extend this to 100 First Milk farms by the end of 2021. The project is being guided by Dr Helaina Black, a soil-ecologist and Honorary Associate at the James Hutton Institute.
Agricarbon starts by carrying out a detailed study of the land to determine appropriate points for extracting representative soil samples. This is undertaken using digital mapping. To allow for in-field variation, fields are divided into strata, then sampling points are randomly selected within each stratum.
Agricarbon extracts soil samples from the field using a Giddings hydraulic probe – originally designed for use by NASA on its Mars mission - which takes a 4cm core to a maximum depth of 1m. This allows soil carbon stock and bulk density to be analyzed at full soil depth and in different depth layers.
Soil cores are transported, sealed and structurally intact, to centralized Agricarbon facilities where the machinery uses robotics and mechanization to automate the process of soil sample preparation and analysis, usually carried out by hand.
Agricarbon’s service includes independent methodologies at all stages of the process and secures an audit trail throughout to allow the data integrity to be validated by certification bodies in future.
Mark Brooking, First Milk sustainability director, said, “Just last week we announced a major development to our First4Milk sustainability program that has seen us commit to net zero by 2040, to the launch of regenerative action plans for all our members, and to sequestering 100,000t of carbon in soils per annum by 2025.
“Having robust, scientifically-validated soil carbon data is absolutely critical to the successful delivery of this strategy, and we look forward to collaborating with Nestlé and Agricarbon as we roll out this ground-breaking initiative. Moving forward, we’ll be working with all of our farmer members and external advisers, using this data to understand soil carbon levels and inform the development of practical regenerative plans for farms that capture additional soil carbon through sequestration, whilst maintaining and enhancing productivity and efficiency.”
Annie Leeson, from Agricarbon, added, “We are delighted to launch our service through this collaboration with First Milk and Nestlé. The project represents a breakthrough in the visibility of soil carbon stock for UK farms. Agricarbon’s baseline will provide the ideal foundation for First Milk farmers to demonstrate their commitment to proactive soil stewardship and the soil carbon sequestration they can achieve as a result.”
Robin Sundaram, responsible sourcing manager at Nestlé UK, said, “Climate change is one of the biggest threats to society and we are using our size, scale and reach to tackle climate change as part of our net zero roadmap. We have committed to supporting farmers in our supply chain to implement regenerative agricultural practices to improve soil health and increase soil carbon sequestration.
“This pioneering project with First Milk and Agricarbon will enable us to build a scientifically-robust baseline dataset on soil carbon levels, allowing us to accurately determine the effectiveness of regenerative practices over time in capturing additional soil carbon.”