Yeo Got This! Seeing the future of organic farming in action

04 July 2023

An image of the NFU Organics Forum and the Food Business Unit at a visit to Yeo Valley Headquarters in Somerset.

In late May, the NFU Organic Forum met at the Yeo Valley headquarters in Somerset, where members discussed the future of organic farming and gained a fascinating insight into the Yeo Valley business and their organic, regenerative ethos. Food Business Unit placement student Grace Brown writes about the visit.

The Yeo Valley Organic brand is Britain’s largest organic brand producing yoghurt, cream, milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream.

During the forum meeting we heard from Tim Mead, founder of Yeo Valley, who explained how the business was started 60 years ago from his family farm of 150 acres. With the expansion of the brand, they now have a milk co-operative of over 130 farmers, sourcing their milk from Arla and Omsco. We also had the opportunity to hear from Sara Ogborne, Head of Membership at Yeo Valley and Martyn Anthony, CEO of Omsco.

The environment is at the heart of Yeo Valley's business, which sequesters more carbon on its founding farm in Somerset than it emits. Soil health is also of particular importance to Yeo Valley, which is investing into many different environmentally friendly farming projects including a 1,000-acre agroforestry project.

Making food from soil, not oil

Tim highlighted how organic farmers are also regenerative farmers and emphasised the importance of working with nature rather than against it. It was also interesting to hear from him how the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) have confirmed that organic farmers can use the term ‘regenerative’ to describe their farming systems.

A phrase Tim used to describe Yeo Valley organic products which stuck with me was “making food from soil not oil”.

Yeo Valley acknowledges that customers do not buy their products solely because they are organic, but because their products use natural ingredients which have been sustainably produced and are not ultra processed compared to similar dairy-based products.

International trade and future organic regulation were hot topics on the agenda, with the forum gaining an insight into the Dairy Export Task Force and the exciting opportunities of growing British exports abroad, thanks to NFU International Trade Advisor Racheal Speed.

It was also great to be joined by a Defra colleague who was able to provide more information on trade deals and organic equivalence.

Seeing organic farming in action

In the afternoon, the forum set out on a farm tour with the very insightful Tom and Will from Yeo Valley’s farming team.

Firstly, we visited the Yeo Valley Agroforestry project, where they are grazing their beef cattle amongst trees and grass land. There, a tree canopy offers shelter for the cattle as well as being an excellent carbon store. The mixture of grassland, trees and livestock provides the farm with a lot of biodiversity.

Back down on Holt Farm, we arrived just in time to see their pedigree herd of British Friesians coming in for their evening milking. At the farm, Tom and Will explained their journey so far with herbal lays and the positive effect mob grazing is having on their carbon storage and soil structure.

The visit to Yeo Valley was very fruitful for the forum, who found it great to see Yeo Valley’s organic farming practices having a positive impact on their land and animals.

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