Regenerative organic farming key to mitigating effects of climate change, says Yeo Valley Organic

Left to right: Tom White, Charlie Allward, Becky Willson

Yeo Valley Organic has announced an alternative approach to carbon offsetting. Britain’s largest organic dairy brand is investing in a £2m soil carbon programme with its supplying organic dairy farms and trialling multiple carbon sequestration work streams based on the principles of regenerative organic farming.

The Somerset-based dairy brand has measured its farm to spoon greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from rearing and milking cows to distributing pots of yogurt and bottles of milk, to the fridge door. The brand has measured the carbon footprint assessment of its scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions with the Research Institute of Sweden, including over 150 of the brand’s products.

With farming directly responsible for 10% of UK national greenhouse gas emissions, Yeo Valley Organic believes carbon sequestration in soils through regenerative organic farming offers enormous potential to reduce atmospheric carbon levels, which are driving ongoing global warming. Yeo Valley Organic owner Tim Mead said: “Helping to regenerate the world’s soil carbon stocks is one of our greatest opportunities to help combat climate change. The work we’re doing on our own and our supply farms is all about weaponising soil. As farmers and custodians of the soil, it’s time to recognise that our natural ally is right under our feet.”

This follows the conclusion of a successful five-year soil carbon testing pilot at Yeo Valley Organic’s own farm in Somerset, where data showed that by using regenerative organic methods the soil carbon stocks on the family farm is equivalent to 150 years’ worth of the farm’s emissions. This was measured in detailed soil sampling including over 1,300 soil samples taken at three different depths, over 2,000 acres. The company reports significant annual increases of soil carbon each year over a five-year period between 2015 – 2020. Yeo Valley Organic believes this is particularly valuable data, as it’s been achieved using real regenerative organic farm practices as opposed to replicated or randomised trials – making soil carbon sequestration a valuable alternative to the practice of offsetting.

Tim adds: “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. After all, soils store more carbon than the atmosphere, and all of the world’s plants and forests combined. The results at our own farm are hugely encouraging and demonstrate why we’re so passionate about the way we farm. We want to prove that organic soil presents a big opportunity in helping to combat the effects of climate change. That’s why we’ve committed to running the ReGeneration Project, which will extend testing across our supplier farms and support them to make a positive impact on locking-in carbon.”

The Yeo Valley Organic ReGeneration Project will facilitate the UK’s most comprehensive research into organic regenerative agriculture principles. The company will be able to share soil carbon sequestration ‘best practice’ with its 100+ supplying farmers and with the support of the farmer led social enterprise the Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT), quantify its success by accurately measuring the increase in soil carbon over a defined period.

Farm Carbon Toolkit technical director Becky Willson said: “There is considerable scope for dairy farmers to be part of the climate solution through engaging in the soil health agenda. A key part of achieving change is measuring the current carbon stock and evaluating the impact of management in improving soil carbon sequestration. This is a project that Yeo Valley Organic are 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.

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

Regenerative farming methods will drive a big part of the positive change at Yeo Valley Organic, with a number of future plans on the table including ambitions to create one of the UK’s largest areas of agroforestry (integrating trees, forage and the grazing of animals in a mutually beneficial way) in 600 acres of woodland in Somerset; and experiments with Biochar for onward use by growers and gardeners for a closed loop approach.

It also has several workstreams planned around composting, mob grazing, biodiverse planting and herbal leys, to increase the knowledge of regenerative organic principles and its effects on increasing carbon stocks in the soil.

With the commitment to a carbon reduction programme in 2022, there will also be continued work on solar energy projects, hydrogen lorries, electric vehicles and packaging. The brand was the first in the UK dairy industry to introduce a yogurt pot made from 100% recycled and recyclable material. Yeo Valley has also installed more than 3,300 solar panels at its Somerset distribution centre. The £1 million installation is the company’s third major solar project growing its renewable energy production, with a further £5 million being spent over the next five years.

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