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Curious young brown cattle on the pasture. Three curious young dairy cows

Danone leads agrifood industry coalition to transition dairy farming to regenerative practices

June 26, 2019

A group of leading food and agriculture companies led by Danone has formed a coalition to make the global dairy industry more sustainable by helping dairy farmers transition to regenerative agriculture practices.

Dubbed ‘Farming for Generations,’ the coalition includes animal health and wellness groups — MSD Animal Health, Neogen and FutureCow; animal nutrition and health company DSM; crop nutrition leader Yara; crop science company Corteva Agriscience; and farm data analytics and artificial intelligence startup Connecterra (one of AgFunder’s portfolio companies!). Netherlands-based Wageningen University and Research, renowned for its food and food production research, will be a research and advisory partner.

The coalition will start by researching the farming models of 25 dairy farms in the US, EU and Russia to identify best practices, how they differ between geographies, and how technology plays a role. 

Armed with the results and learnings, the coalition then intends to identify and scale up solutions across the farming system: growing animal feed, choosing the best animals for breeding programs, nurturing and rearing animals, and producing milk. It will explore regenerative agricultural practices that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect soil and biodiversity while providing the best quality feed for dairy cows; support animal health and wellbeing, ensuring cows have a healthy, stress-free life; and empower farmers with workable solutions to economic, social and environmental challenges.

Regenerative agriculture is an agricultural strategy, dubbed “beyond sustainable” that seeks to improve the state of agricultural soils to the point that they can actually improve the local and global ecosystem. These positive, or regenerative outcomes, can be an increase in the nutritional profile and water storing capability of soils to promote plant growth as well as sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

The practice is increasingly moving mainstream and gaining the attention and backing of an increasing number of agtech startups: most recently one of the best-funded agtech startups to-date, Indigo Agriculture, launched an ambitious carbon sequestration initiative to incentivizing the adoption of regenerative ag practices.

“Regenerative agriculture is a solution to many of the environmental and health challenges we face today,” wrote Yann Gael Rio, VP Milk and Farming at Danone, in the release. “Farming for Generations brings together expertise along the whole agricultural value chain with the collective know-how of farmers. This will ensure any solutions and innovations are tried and tested on the ground, capable of delivering real impact at scale, and helping to build the sustainable food systems of tomorrow.”

The press release adds that the coalition recognizes that “the food system needs to change to address a range of environmental and health challenges.”

Connecterra CEO Yasir Khokhar is excited about the potential for the startup’s Ida intelligence platform to play a role in this initiative.

Connecterra’s machine learning platform “Ida” is an artificial intelligence-powered service that uses data collected from dairy cows to offer meaningful insights and recommendations, particularly around animal health and farm operations. And more recently the startup has started analyzing the impact of other factors on the efficiency of a farm. The company believes that in order to transition towards new, sustainable models of farming, data from the value chain has to be incorporated into the advice for farmers. Through its Ida for Enterprise offering the company is linking suppliers, farmers and dairy processors to aid this transition. 

“An efficient farm is not just about the cow but empowering the farmer to make effective decisions that meet the expectations of their customers,” he told AFN. While initially focused on barn-based dairy operations, Connecterra’s sensors and data analytics platform is now used across dairy farms, including pasture-based systems.

“Joining the Farming for Generations initiative is highly strategic for Connecterra”, said Khokhar. “Our mission is to make agriculture more sustainable by using machine learning to help farmers make better decisions and gain insights, made possible with the use of data.”

“Farm inputs such as feed, genetics, and veterinary medicine use, when combined with data, sensors and sophisticated algorithms, are the perfect platform for us to show that we can make agriculture and dairy farming more sustainable and future-proof.”

“Danone is clearly leading the way in its commitment to sustainable agriculture by bringing together industry leaders to solve an issue that impacts us all as inhabitants of our home planet. We are humbled to be part of this elite group and excited about the role we expect to play in the months to come.”

This is the second announcement related to making the dairy industry more sustainable this week; energy company Chevron and California Bioenergy (CalBio) announced a joint investment in a holding company with Californian dairy farmers to produce and market dairy biomethane as a vehicle fuel in the state. Manure storage on dairy farms results in the release of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. The joint venture will aim to build digesters and methane capture projects to convert this methane for its beneficial use as renewable natural gas (RNG).

“Once complete, these projects will significantly mitigate the dairies’ methane emissions and help make them among the most environmentally efficient and sustainable in the world,” reads the press release.

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