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Why to love soil

Regenerative organic farming is key to helping combat climate change, says the owner of Britain’s largest organic dairy brand
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Hands cupped together, holding soil on an organic farm

This article first appeared in our ‘Love is all we need’ issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 14 February 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Soil helps to grow 95% of our food – yet half the planet’s topsoil has been lost over the last 150 years.

For Tim Mead – owner of Britain’s largest organic dairy brand, Yeo Valley Organic – soil should be seen as part of the solution to our climate crisis.

What many people think of as dirt actually filters our water, helps regulate the Earth’s temperature and stores more carbon than the atmosphere and all the world’s plants and forests combined.

‘Helping to regenerate the world’s soil carbon stocks is one of our greatest opportunities to help combat climate change’, Tim says. ‘As farmers and custodians of the soil, it’s time to recognise that our natural ally is right under our feet.’

Studying soil stocks

Farming is directly responsible for 10% of the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and Yeo Valley Organic believes that sequestration through regenerative organic farming could help to reduce atmospheric carbon levels.

The business is embarking on one of the country’s largest studies of soil carbon stocks on its supply farms in a bid to create an alternative to carbon offsetting.

The Yeo Valley Organic ReGeneration Project will work with farmer-led social enterprise the Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT) to measure soil carbon stocks on an initial 25 organic dairy farms. The project will help farms to make a positive impact by locking in carbon.

‘Carbon offsetting isn’t for us, and we only considered ourselves to be truly regenerative organic farmers once we began to start increasing our soil carbon stocks.’

Owner of Yeo Valley Organic

An alternative to offsetting

The project follows the conclusion of a five-year soil carbon testing pilot at Yeo Valley Organic’s own farm in Somerset, where data showed the use of regenerative organic methods have created soil carbon stocks equivalent to 150 years’ worth of the farm’s emissions.

Detailed soil sampling, including over 1,300 soil samples taken at three different depths over 2,000 acres, reveals significant annual increases of soil carbon each year over a five-year period (2015-2020).

This information is particularly valuable as it has been acquired using real regenerative organic farm practices rather than randomised trials.

The trial demonstrates that soil carbon sequestration is a valuable alternative to the increasingly common practice of offsetting.

‘There is considerable scope for dairy farmers to be part of the climate solution through engaging in the soil health agenda’, says Becky Willson, Farm Carbon Toolkit’s technical director. ‘This is a project that Yeo Valley Organic is pioneering, bringing together robust science and measurement on the carbon levels within the soil and farmer engagement and advice to identify improvements which will sequester additional carbon.’

Soil health and the climate crisis

Regenerative organic farming methods will play a key role at Yeo Valley Organic this year; plans include an ambition to create one of the UK’s largest areas of agroforestry, integrating trees and animal grazing in a mutually beneficial way across 600 acres of woodland in Somerset.

The goal is to increase the knowledge of regenerative organic principles and their effects on the stuff Yeo Valley and its cows love – healthy soil and lush pastures.

‘Gathering data over the next 10 years will build up knowledge of how a transition to regenerative organic dairy farming can really benefit our soil, our planet, our farmers and our food production’, Becky explained. ‘We don’t have all the answers when it comes to soil carbon, but this is the start of vital work to explore the impact of soil health on our climate crisis, and guide the actions of future farmers.’

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