Farmer-owned dairy cooperative First Milk and manufacturer Yeo Valley Production are to create a “regenerative milk pool” in the south west of England.
The two organisations have together created the ‘Naturally better dairy group’, which will see the regenerative milk processed into dairy products.
The farmers involved will have to commit to delivering what the group calls “better outcomes” across various metrics including animal welfare, climate, biodiversity and the local community.
First Milk describes regenerative farming as “less intense […] an agricultural system which has a positive impact on the world we live in whilst producing nutritious food”. The process “improves soil health, enhancing the water and nutrient cycle as well the soil food web”, which also increases biodiversity. By increasing organic matter carbon is also being removed from the atmosphere and sequestered it into the soil, its website explains.
First Milk says it operates the “largest regenerative farming programme in the UK dairy sector”. More than 90% of the cooperative’s members are signed up to the regenerative farming programme it started in 2021. Farmers involved have been paid a premium of 0.5ppl (pence per litre) since April 2022.
It’s not yet clear whether the dairy products made from the milk will be marketed as ‘regenerative’.
A number of major food and drink brands have made commitments to regenerative agriculture and are piloting on-farm programmes.
Nestlé is investing CHF1.2bn (£960m) in regenerative agriculture across its supply chain. Compass says 70% of its top five food categories will be sourced from regenerative agriculture by 2030.
Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company has committed to sourcing 30% of all agricultural raw materials from regenerative practices by 2030, reaching 100% by 2040. In the UK, the company has committed to 100% regenerative barley for Carlsberg Danish Pilsner by 2027, and for all UK brands by 2031.
Oatly, meanwhile, recently announced FARM (the future agriculture renovation movement) to help restore carbon, improve biodiversity and support farm viability. The target is to cut the climate footprint of the milk alternative by at least 70% by 2029 (in line with its net-zero ambitions).
The term ‘regenerative’ is also beginning to appear on food and drinks. However, there is currently no agreed definition.
Research shows consumers like the sound of it but are unsure of the meaning. Speaking at the NFU conference earlier this year, Dairy UK chief executive Judith Bryans said consumers “generally understand ‘net-zero’ and ‘carbon’ but they don’t understand ‘regenerative agriculture’”.