If you have looked in the dairy case at all in your local grocery store, you can’t miss Horizon Organic, with its bright red cartons and cartoon cow. The world’s largest certified organic dairy brand is now looking to use cover crops, crop rotation and reduced tillage to offset more carbon than is produced by its organic dairy farmer members.
To be clear, Horizon Organic is not just seeking carbon neutrality. It seeks to become “carbon positive” in 5 short years across its entire supply chain. This is an unprecedented goal in the dairy industry.
Horizon Organic, a unit of Danone, works with 600 family-farm partners to produce its milk. “Regenerative agriculture” efforts will become the focus for these dairies, according to Danone North America’s Soil Health Initiative. Goals include improving soil organic matter, sequestering carbon, improving yields, boosting biodiversity and enhancing water-holding capacity.
The company has also created a $15 million fund, the Horizon Farmer Investment Fund, to help farmers become more sustainable through other methods, such as cutting use of inputs. The fund will offer farmers low and no-cost loans and grants to help with capital, training, tools and technology to improve their farms’ efficiency.
A full lifecycle assessment by a panel of third-party experts has evaluated practices for tillage, crop rotation and other elements that will enable dairy producers to improve soil health and its ability to retain water and sequester carbon. The Carbon Trust, a global team of 200 sustainability experts, will be assisting Horizon Organic to identify other activities, such as restoring forests and prairies, that will help the brand meet its carbon positive goal.
Organic dairy operators already grow feed for their cows without using pesticides and fertilizers, so taking the next step to using the full spectrum of regenerative practices is not that much further. After all, healthy soil can hold tremendous amounts of carbon. One estimate is that soils used for agriculture could sequester as much as 10% of human carbon emissions.
The dairy industry tends to be on the forefront of implementing science to help improve their industry as a whole — such as using genomics, connecting farmers and consumers, etc. Perhaps this small segment of the ag industry can also help lead the way when it comes to cover crop adoption.