First Milk and Agricarbon collaborative project

3 May 2023

In 2021 First Milk launched a project with Agricarbon to carry out intensive soil carbon analysis using its proprietary approach. The initial phases of the project were conducted with First Milk’s long-term commercial partner, Nestlé, which supported the work as part of its climate journey roadmap. But the project has developed beyond that and is now one of the leading projects of its type in the UK.

To date, Agricarbon has collected samples for First Milk from more than 18,500 hectares of land, across nearly 4,000 fields, in more than 56,000 individual soil cores taken to a depth of 1 metre.  The analysis of these samples has shown that the soil carbon stock in these fields is nearly 2 million tonnes – an average of 17,500 tonnes per hectare.

First Milk has committed to sequestering an additional 100,000t of CO2e in soil each year by 2025. This data allows us to establish the baseline position, and then continue sampling in the future to demonstrate the change that’s been delivered via our regenerative actions, with the plan being to re-sample fields every 5 years.

Regenerative practices can help increase soil organic matter; every 0.1% of additional soil organic matter per hectare equates to nine tonnes of CO2 removed from the atmosphere through sequestration. In addition, this increases soil water holding capacity, reducing flood risk and runoff resulting in increased drought resilience.

How does Agricarbon’s unique approach to soil sampling work?

  • End-to-end service covering sampling strategy, collection of soil cores, processing and automated soil carbon analysis.
  • Stratified random sampling based on digital mapping containing soil type, geology, terrain features and above ground vegetation data sets to ensure samples accurately represent the varied conditions across a whole field.
  • Typically, 15 samples taken per field based on GPS co-ordinates sent to field operators using specially designed ATVs with hydraulic core extractors extract a wide core to 1m depth. Soil cores kept intact in an air and water-sealed tube until analysis is undertaken.
  • Soil cores sub-divided into different depth layers to give an accurate picture of soil carbon. Wide cores also allow accurate bulk density to be determined, providing accurate indication of soil compaction. This is critical in accurately determining soil carbon stocks.
  • Automated soil carbon analysis (ASCA) processes thousands of samples with extreme consistency and ultra-low cost. This means a large number of samples can be taken – vital for measuring change accurately over time. Uses Dumas dry combustion – the most accurate method for measuring soil organic carbon.
  • Results provided as a detailed field-level and soil depth breakdown and stored securely to allow future re-measurement, comparison and statistical analysis.

First Milk can monitor progress on soil carbon sequestration in a robust and scientific way, to quantify progress towards its net zero ambition. And that is where Agricarbon comes in.