Achieving climate neutrality through system-wide collaboration
Valio, the leading dairy company in Finland, set out in 2018 to develop and implement a roadmap for creating a carbon-neutral milk chain by 2035. To reach this goal, Valio gathered a consortium of private and public partners that are committed to making measurable improvements in a transparent and sustainable food chain. Valio sought out Yara’s partnership, to leverage Yara’s history as a leader in sustainable crop nutrition knowledge and agriculture technology. The collaboration between Yara and Valio brings together two companies with a long-term legacy of science- and research-based innovation to solve one of today’s most pressing challenges.
“We need system-wide collaboration to achieve system-wide impact.”
“Our goal is to cut the climate impacts of Valio’s milk chain to zero by 2035,” says Aleksi Astaptsev, Valio Climate Team Development Manager. In order to deliver on this goal, it’s necessary to collect and verify data that measures the baseline of the emissions of the milk chain and tracks their progress in reducing it to net zero. “At Valio, we have developed the Carbo® Farm calculator that our dairy farms can use to calculate the carbon footprint of raw milk,” says Astaptsev.
Yara’s partnership provides valuable data that contributes to the Carbo® Farm calculator’s development, and Yara also shares knowledge and guidance with farmers as they transition to solutions and practices that improve their carbon footprint in the field. “Yara’s focus is on producing good yields with optimum quality, which has a significant impact on the carbon footprint of milk,” says Mervi Seppänen, Yara Senior Agronomist for Sustainability and Grasslands. “We can also reduce agricultural emissions via improved land use and enhance carbon sequestration in grass fields.”
Yara’s digital farming application, Atfarm, provides grassland farmers with precision fertilization maps and grassland yield estimates. This feature was developed thanks to data contributed by Valio’s farmers, and provides a critical piece of the carbon footprint calculation. “Grass biomass estimation has been the missing link for the improvement of grassland farming,” says Seppänen. “The development of digital tools enables farmers to scale up good plant nutrition practices and monitor their impact.”
“When we use digitalization solutions in the control of grass production, we can increase the productivity of grass fields,” says Roland Westerberg, VP Commercial Director, Yara Suomi. “The key is especially the optimized use of nutrients and taking over the annual variation in the quantity and quality of the grass crop.”
Partnerships like the one between Yara and Valio are crucial to creating change across entire value chains, yielding meaningful results for the planet. “The collaboration between Yara and Valio has produced a lot of new data that we can utilize to tackle the climate challenge,” says Astaptsev.
Putting data into action
A 3-year pilot program tested this new approach with 50 farmers across Finland.
“The Valio team selected pilot farmers and Yara sales managers planned Yara best practice fertilization for two grass fields per farmer,” says Seppänen. These farmers diligently measured yields, sampled soils, and recorded conditions like weather.
Yara can then help farmers lower their carbon footprint, using the newly developed Atfarm tools to optimize plant nutrition in their grasslands. Through a series of webinars, Yara offers agronomic support for adopting best practices and maximizing nutrient use efficiency. “We know how to utilize nutrients precisely. We have balanced nutrition with mineral fertilizers, we have recycled nutrients,” says Seppänen. “This data has been a very good resource for understanding what farmers actually do on their farms. And we can have a positive impact.”
Turning action into results
A critical component of this program is to decrease land use change by increasing the productivity of the land that is already in use for agriculture. This prevents agriculture from encroaching on new land, leaving natural landscapes undisturbed, reducing emissions, and protecting biodiversity. The data shows that the program is succeeding in this goal by helping farmers increase yields substantially. “The average grass yield in Finland is around 6 tons per hectare,” says Seppänen. “With Yara’s best practices in pilot fields, the measured yield was over 9 tons per hectare.”
"The nutrient use efficiency was high in pilot farms through Yara’s best nutrition recommendations," she adds. "The next step is to advise more farmers to adopt these crop nutrition practices," she adds. Through this data, it’s possible to model carbon balance and N2O emissions. Ultimately, says Seppänen, the goal is to determine the impact on greenhouse gas emissions if this system is implemented widely across Finland.
The project is making progress toward more widespread adoption. Since the initial pilot, around 2,500 of Valio’s ca. 3,500 farmers are using the Carbo®Farm Calculator to record their data and determine areas for improvement, and Yara’s best practice recommendations are reaching more farmers than ever to help them make an impact on their farms.
“To grow a nature-positive food future, we must take into account that resources are limited and we have to produce food more responsibly.”
“The Earth has a pulse, and for me that is a symbol that we are all connected.”says Astaptsev.
Seppänen shares a similar sentiment. “Working together, we can create resilience to climate change on Finland’s dairy farms.”
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