EUROPE’S largest dairy co-operative, Arla Foods, has pledged to make its operations 'carbon net zero' by 2050.

Setting out a bold plan to mitigate the 'unavoidable emissions' from keeping cows for milk production with improvements elsewhere in its supply chain, the huge co-op – owned by 10,300 farmers across the UK, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and Belgium – insisted that technological advances would allow its business to continue to grow without environmental impact.

In a period of substantial growth since 2005, Arla has taken on the management of almost 50% more milk, but its CO2 emissions have reduced by 22% across production and packaging; while on its member farms. CO2 emissions per kilo of milk have reduced by 24% since 1990.

Arla Foods UK managing director Ash Amirahmadi said: “One of the greatest challenges facing us all is providing natural, nutritious food for a growing population whilst reducing our collective impact on the world around us. Arla has already shown this is possible and the new ambitions announced today will ensure Arla’s farmers, production sites and products continue to play their part in developing a sustainable world for everyone.”

Mr Amirahmadi held up UK examples of best practice, including the first carbon net zero milk processing facility in the world at Aylesbury, where from 2015 to 2018 Arla cut the annual emissions of carbon from the site by more than half by switching to using biogas, and have since created a 'circular economy' working with Olleco and McDonald’s.

At the same time, over 130 UK Arla farms now use robotics to allow cows to be milked whenever they want, and across all 2400 UK Arla farms, many of them in Scotland, cows graze for an average 16 hours, 180 days of the year, in a land management system that helps absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Many of these farmers also use renewable energy sources, and across all of its 10,300 farmer owners, the total electricity produced on farms equals 61% of their total electricity usage.

Arla farmer owner Jonathan Sharp said: “Every day Arla farmers take steps to support and shape Britain’s countryside. No one feels the effects of varying weather patterns more than farmers, it has a direct impact on the animals we care for, the food we produce and the money we make. We’ve taken some big steps at Arla, but we can’t take our feet off the pedal. Every business and individual in every walk of life will need to think about their impact on the world in the years to come.”

NFU Scotland environment policy manager Andrew Midgley agreed that while global agriculture was under the microscope over its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, Scottish farming was in a good position to be part of the solution.

"Climate change really matters to Scotland’s farmers and crofters as they are on the front line in dealing with changes in weather patterns and storm events. But because farming contributes greenhouse gas emissions, it must be seen as part of the solution. We absolutely want to play our role in helping to deliver that in practice.

"The Scottish Government has been promoting climate friendly farming practices through its Farming for a Better Climate initiative and we very much support that. Indeed, we would encourage Holyrood to expand that programme so that it has a much greater effect.

"In reality, farmers and crofters are already playing their part – but receiving scant credit for that," said Mr Midgley, who claimed that the Greenhouse Gas inventory did not properly reflect the complexity of farming in Scotland, by failing to balance farm forestry, renewable energy, and grassland carbon capture, against the oft-highlighted 'unavoidable' emissions from livestock themselves.

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