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Improving soil health through The Milk Plan

Improving soil health through The Milk Plan

5 min

Written by Mark Brooking, Sustainability Director at First Milk.

Mark believes that Regenerative Dairy Farming can be part of the climate change solution.

 Mark Brooking
When we look over the countryside of the UK and see all those stretches of field and forest, admiring its ability to nourish and feed us. What we may not realise is that, and all of us, are reliant on just six inches of topsoil.

The vast majority of life on earth relies on soil to maintain its existence, without healthy vibrant soil we could not produce food, and it is only the top 6 inches that count. This topsoil is a complex mixture of minerals, organic matter, gases, liquid and living organisms that when combined supports life.

Within a single teaspoon of carbon rich soil there are more microorganisms than all human life on the planet and it is a delicate, balanced universe of its own. Worldwide, people have been degrading soils, through poor agricultural practices that did not focus on soil protection. This has led to reductions in organic matter and living organisms in the soil, negatively effecting its ability to grow.

Soil health also extends to our other environmental challenges.

It’s widely known that soil stores 3 times more carbon than all the plants and trees combined, and holds circa 65% of all the fresh water on the planet.

The more we degrade the soil, the more Carbon dioxide is increased in the atmosphere rather than stored securely underground. Degraded soils also cannot hold the same water levels, increasing the prevalence of both ends of the spectrum, droughts, and flooding.

>Delivering the Milk Plan, alongside First Milk, the dairy farmers co-operative who supplies the sustainable milk that goes into our delicious NESCAFÉ frothy coffees, has been a large step forward in ensuring healthy soils are a focus. Through 5 core pillars of regeneration First Milk farmers seek to ensure that soil is protected and regenerated:

  1. Minimise soil disturbance – soil likes to be left alone to create its own delicate micro-system. Our farmers take mitigations such as not ploughing to allow the soil to regenerate.
  2. Grow different plant species to improve soil bio-diversity – Growing more than one crop in any field, whether that is grass for cows to eat or crops for humans, improves soil health and helps pollinators and wildlife. We support our farmers to grow a diverse range of plants in each field which leads to healthier soil and healthier more nutritionally balanced cows for great quality milk.
  3. Protect soil from wind and water erosion – bare soil isn’t protected from having that top 6 inches broken down by wind and rain, our farmers complete various tasks to protect their soil from wind and rain, and ensure it is covered with plant life at all times.
  4. Keep living roots in the soil – Living roots are needed to feed the soil microorganisms which helps the soil remains healthy.  The deeper roots go, and the less they are interfered with, the healthier the soil and the deeper carbon can be stored under that top 6 inches.
  5. Integrating livestock – particularly important for The Milk Plan. Livestock are living, moving muck spreaders, creating natural fertilisers and treading those nutrients into the earth, nourishing it and ultimately creating more carbon rich soil. To further improve soil health farmers can rotate the fields on which the cows graze on.
What these natural practices achieve are significant increases in organic matter and living organisms, they support living breathing soils. This in turn captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locks it away deep underground, putting carbon back into the soil.

They also improve the water holding capacity of the soil making it more resilient to dry weather and able to absorb more to prevent floods. By improving the health of the soil, we are able to produce more grass to feed the cows that produce the milk, used in our NESCAFÉ frothy coffees.

NESCAFÉ will continue to work towards protecting and regenerating our soils, alongside First Milk Dairy Farmers and their family farms.

This is #FreshFarmingThinking, and every delicious cup of NESCAFÉ Frothy coffee is the result of regenerative practices that supporting life within those 6 inches of topsoil.