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For the love of soil

Healthy soil is the key to sustainable farming and a stable climate
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Gizzi Erskine and Tim Mead

This article first appeared in our Love issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 09 April 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

At Yeo Valley Organic the dairy cows are the stars – but keeping them in tip-top condition starts with the soil.

Organic farmers have long known that nature has the answer, but in the past 30 years scientists and soil experts have got really excited about how the matter under our feet can store carbon.

In fact, soil locks up three times more carbon than the atmosphere.

All about balance

Degraded soils have become a major contributing factor to climate change. According to the UN, around the world the equivalent of one football field of soil is eroded every five seconds.

At Yeo Valley Organic, nurturing the soil and farming regeneratively is part of the solution. ‘Like all things in nature, healthy soil is about balance’, explains Tim Mead, owner of Yeo Valley Organic. ‘We spend a lot of time ensuring our soils have the right balance of nutrients, air and water – just like any living thing.’

At Tim’s family farm in Somerset, the soil is the cornerstone of the whole operation. There’s a strong belief that if the soil is right, the health of everything else – including 2,000 acres of land, over 400 British Friesian cows and 800 sheep – will follow.

Main image: Chef, writer and soil activist Gizzi Erskine partnered with Yeo Valley Organic to shine a spotlight on soil for World Soil Day

‘Nature is a great teacher’, Tim tells us. ‘We plant up to 10 different species of grass, clover and herbs in our fields – this helps boost the soil fertility and makes the soil structure more resilient to extreme weather conditions like drought or floods. We keep our fields covered with crops throughout the year to ensure all the elements aren’t lost.’

At Yeo Valley Organic, farming a mix of cows, sheep and crops is essential as the manure from the animals is the catalyst for soil health. ‘It also helps make organic soils more effective at storing carbon in the long term’, adds Tim.

A soil revolution

Locking carbon in the soil (carbon sequestration) was Tim’s focus at this year’s virtual Oxford Real Farming conference.

The session heard from those involved in the UK’s largest farmer-led soil carbon research project, which is leading the way in developing protocols for measuring and valuing soil health and carbon. By tracking soil carbon over multiple years, the project is generating valuable data.

The British dairy brand will spend 2021 (and beyond), shining a spotlight on the soil revolution that could save farming – and the climate.

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