Danone North America, White Plains, N.Y., launched a ground-breaking soil health initiative with renowned experts and academics to build best-in-class soil health programs to benefit farms and communities. The company is committing up to $6 million for the research program over the next five years. This program will begin with products involved in The Dannon Pledge, the company’s commitment to a range of progressive practices focused on sustainable agriculture, transparency and naturality for the Dannon, Oikos and Danimals brands.

“Soil is the foundation of our food system, with an estimated 95% of food directly or indirectly reliant on soil,” says Ryan Sirolli, agriculture director. “As America’s largest yogurt maker, we saw an opportunity to initiate this breakthrough research program with our supply chain. When we announced our pledge, we committed to championing sustainable agriculture, which includes reaching for better soil health. We will evaluate soil on the farms of growers who provide feed for cows and on the dairy farms where we buy milk. The long-lasting relationships we have with our growers and dairy farmers, who have a passion for change and strive for continuous improvement, have empowered us to launch this program. We know this work requires collaboration to make a meaningful impact, and we are excited to bring together uniquely skilled partners to help us to continue to fulfill our ambition.”

Danone North America will be advancing its soil health research program over the next 18 months. The aim of the soil health initiative is to identify ways to help regenerate soils, looking at enhancing organic matter and soil fertility with long-term benefits such as soil carbon sequestration, reduced chemicals use, soil water holding capacity, biodiversity and economic resilience of farmer communities. Key activities with participating grower and dairy farmer partners and third-party soil health experts will include soil sampling, review of yield, grower engagement, data collection and analysis, first reports and field days with farmers to provide training around soil health best practices.

The partners include:

  • Dr. Rattan Lal and the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, will lead soil sampling across a set of grower and dairy farmer partners. The team will analyze the samples and provide data for analysis. The team will then look at the data to identify practices to help increase the carbon intake of soil.
  • Dr. Harold van Es and the soil health team at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., will partner on soil health analysis for the program. The team will use results to make recommendations to be implemented over the next five years with an aim to improve soil health with participating grower and dairy farmer partners.
  • EcoPractices, West Des Moines, Iowa, working with EFC/Ag Solver as a service provider, will gather information from program partners to analyze and share reports that help to create an understanding of what the data means for many stakeholders and farmer partners.

Danone North America also joined The Carbon Underground, Los Angeles; Green America, Washington, D.C.; and other food companies to inform the design and development of a new global certification standard for food grown in a regenerative way. The soil health initiative and the company’s work to support The Carbon Underground are two important next steps in Danone North America’s overarching regenerative ambition.

“With all life beginning and ending in soil, there is urgency to promote agricultural practices that can help regenerate soils. As a soil scientist who has conducted research in this area for the last 50 years, I am privileged to work with Danone North America, a company that is setting an example for the private sector with a commitment to become carbon neutral,” says Lal. “The support of the private sector will ensure we can make changes on a significant scale. I hope that others will be inspired by this work and consider options for becoming involved.”

“Working with the private sector to tackle the question of how to improve soil health will help us make an impact at large scale,” says van Es. “I’ve spent my career exploring opportunities to improve soil health, and I look forward to working with Danone North America and the soil health program research team to implement changes based on what we learn through the research.”

Finally, the company is exploring options to participate in the Regenerative Organic Alliance, a Vista, Calif.-based group working to develop the Regenerative Organic Certification. The work with the Regenerative Organic Alliance would be complementary to the company’s continued commitment to the USDA Organic Standard through pioneering brands. Danone North America seeks to understand how this proposed certification can benefit the planet and farming communities through soil health, animal welfare and social fairness.