December 15, 2022

From the Ground Up: How Important is Soil Health to our Future Food System

Ellen Fay, the co-founder of the Sustainable Soil Alliance observed that “soil is crucial to the health of everything else. We can't deliver on any of our environmental targets if we don't deliver for soil”. In our conversation with Tim Mead, Non-exec and former CEO of Yeo Valley and Becky Wilson, Technical Director at Farm Carbon Toolkit, we will dig into the truth of this statement and address the key levers that businesses and farmers can take to scale soil health initiatives.

We will uncover:

  • The challenges and opportunities of soil carbon measurement
  • What a future fit farming system looks like in practice
  • The key levers that businesses and farmers can take to scale soil health initiatives
  • The business case for investing in soil health


Jamie Dujardin: This is Altruistiq, where we speak to pioneers in the race to zero and unpack the lessons from their experience for you, our community of impact professionals. I'm your host, Jamie Dujardin, and in today's episode, we are joined by Tim Mead, non-exec (formerly CEO) of Yeo Valley Organic, and Becky Wilson, Technical Director at Farm Carbon Toolkit, to unpack the complexities and contributions of soil health to a net zero future.

Ellen Fay, the co-founder of the Sustainable Soils Alliance, observed that soil is crucial for the health of everything else. We can't deliver on any of our environmental targets if we don't deliver for soil. In our conversation with Tim and Becky, we'll dig into the truth of this statement and address the key levers that businesses and farmers can take to scale soil health initiatives. In doing so, we'll uncover the challenges and opportunities of soil carbon measurement, surface the commercial opportunities, and forecast the road ahead to a future-fit farming system. Tim and Becky, welcome.

Tim Mead: Thank you very much.

Becky Wilson: Thanks very much.

Jamie Dujardin : Lovely to have you both on the podcast, and thank you so much for your time. What I wanted to do is just start with a question each, if that's all right. So just starting, maybe Tim with you, Yeo Valley's obviously been championing organic farming for over 25 years, and you were quoted saying that as farmers and custodians of the soil, it's time to recognise that our natural ally is right under our feet. In your eyes, what role does soil health play in your approach to future-fit farming at Yeo Valley?

Tim Mead: Well, I guess we've been farming in the valley for 60 years, and I think 95% of all food comes from the soil. We are actually beings of the soil. I think the word human and humus, if you're Latin or Greek, I think they're interrelated. So without soil, we just wouldn't exist. And therefore, looking after soil is probably the single greatest thing that mankind can do to ensure that we survive and thrive. So it is just the most single point. The expansion of that is the damage that we've done by putting a third more CO2 into the atmosphere and that whole debate about the climate crisis, people became more aware of it in their conscious, the realisation that soil has a major part to play. I think some of the debate today will be about how big that part is. There are some people who say that you can put all of the world's CO2 into the soil every year, and there are some people who say that you can't. As a business, our job is to work out the art of the possible, and that's why it's a central plank to what we're about.

Jamie Dujardin :I guess also, for those who probably are not as close to the soil, one of the major learning that I've had in recent times is that not only do we need to maintain soil but actually there's a huge amount of regrowth of our soil stocks that are available to us in the coming years given the way that things have been done in recent times.

Tim Mead: Absolutely. But to reiterate the misinformation that is out there, you can find a podcast that claims that you can build an inch of soil in a year and you can find another one that says it takes a thousand years to make an inch of soil, so we need to establish the facts.

Jamie Dujardin: I totally agree, which then wonderfully leads me to my second question over to you, Becky, which is soil carbon has historically always been very, very difficult to calculate and validate. I think there are changing parameters for measuring this over time, which has led to a lot of uncertainty and, as Tim says, a lot of misinformation. So how is Farm Carbon Toolkit helping navigate these challenges and bringing in more practical approaches to soil carbon measurement?

Becky Wilson: I think from what Tim has just been saying, we can all agree that soil is incredibly important in everything that we do and certainly with our work with farmers and growers. If we think about what's currently happening in terms of how we can start to quantify agriculture's environmental impact, not just for its own sector but also for its ability to help contribute to these net zero targets, to developing sustainable and resilient farming systems as we move forward, we do keep coming back around to this question of soil and how we validate soil as a really important part of that. I suppose at Farm CarbonToolkit, our approach has been quite simple really. We've been working in this space for about the last 10 to 12 years really trying to understand what are those key areas that farmers need to look at practically that will both reduce emissions and improve sequestration, and obviously, the soil is very much there. But also understanding that we are measuring soil and soil carbon as part of that impact for what it's doing to the farm business. Soil carbon is an important part of what we measure, but it's also not done in isolation. It's also understanding how by building soil carbon we are also helping that farm performance. We are helping build resilience. We are helping hold more water, and cycle more nutrients. And so, while soil carbon measurements are a key part of how we are working with farmers, it's also tan helping them understand, actually what do these metrics mean. What can I do differently? I think as we then start to look at the scope of what is possible with soil carbon, it has to come back down to actually empowering those people who are farming, who are making those management decisions day in and day out about what they're going to do next, understand, so actually what is the best practice that I can do? And what is the opportunity on my farm to build soil carbon? How does that link to resilience to performance to production? And how does that help me develop a strategy for my farm moving forward that will allow me to have a business that is fit for the future?

Jamie Dujardin : Yeah, absolutely. I actually really would love to touch on resilience a little bit. But as a starting point, just maybe for a sense of scale, when you've worked with farms before, what proportion or how big a lever is soil compared to other levers that farms have? And what are the other major levers that seem to exist?

Becky Wilson: Oh, absolutely, soil is a really important one. If we look at what's happened, and as I say, because we've been involved with working with farmers on these topics for about the last, I say, 12 years, and if we think back 12 years where nobody was talking about any of this sort of stuff, nobody was talking about net zero ambitions or the climate crisis or actually agriculture's environmental impact, it was a really hard conversation to have with people because carbon greenhouse gas emissions are fairly intangible. We can't see these things being emitted from the farm. Numbers, the metrics, the million tons, all of these numbers don't mean anything because it's an intangible metric that's very, very hard to quantify. And then if we're thinking about actually what these different opportunities are to start to capture more of these invisible gases, it all becomes a little bit theoretical. Again, in terms of engaging farmers, it's incredibly difficult. But the magic is when we start talking about soil. The soil is that incredible lever because it's practical. We're dealing with soil on a day-to-day basis. You can go out and dig a hole and have a look at what's happening within your soil. And so, we found for the work that we do at Farm Carbon Toolkit, it is an incredibly useful tool to be able to start talking about some of these wider issues around reducing emissions, and improving productivity through the medium of soil. Because actually, soil connects farmers with what they're doing day to day with how their farm is contributing to those solutions that we are delivering over the longer term. So it is incredibly important. Again, if we are then thinking about what we can do in terms of reducing emissions if we're thinking about nitrous oxide emissions, it all comes back to the soil, comes back to what we're doing in terms of the fertility that's running through the soil, nutrient management planning. If we are thinking about how we can reduce emissions from our livestock, again, the more we can do around improving our grassland management, which again comes back to soil. So it's a really, really good starting point to actually have a whole range of different conversations with a farmer, but it helps them to root with what they're doing on their farm. And by understanding their soil type, their rotation, their motivations, you can actually start to have really good conversations and start to get to some practical things, which takes this whole topic from something which is theoretical, scary, and you're going to tell me that I have to stop doing all these things, to really starting to allow to have a positive conversation with them about the things that are under their control and they can do something about which will help on the emissions reductions, help on the sequestration, but also help their individual farm business performance. In this era of uncertainty for farmers, anything we can do to help with their business performance makes sense.

Jamie Dujardin : Tim, from your side, are you also feeling the practical benefits of having measured the impact of soil, and how are these conversations happening at YeoValley?

Tim Mead: Yeah, now, I think there are three guiding stars in our business really. There's a healthy natural food, there are carbon emissions, and then there's the resilience on the farms. And it's not a binary choice. We know that our true north at Yeo Valley is to produce natural healthy food. To do that, you've got to have really healthy soil. But on the other side, the consumer's concern around climate change is like do you do... Personally, I would prefer to have some footprint than eat unhealthily, processed, ultra-processed food, so for us, what we've got to do is balance healthy natural food, resilience, and then the climate footprint.

Jamie Dujardin :Yeah, that makes perfect sense. On this point of resilience, you've both mentioned it a couple of times, I heard maybe quite a controversial statement, that the way farming is going is almost like the financial system going towards '08, where we were almost so aggressively farming that we were borrowing on future farming's time. Do you feel that that is a system we are in? Do you think that that's something that we are tackling? Does that resonate at all with either of you as you Becky work with farmers and Tim at Yeo Valley?

Becky Wilson:I mean, I think it's certainly a good opportunity and a good time to look at our farming systems. I think if we fast forward 10 years into the future, are we going to be able to be feeding a lot of grain-based concentrates and using a lot of artificial fertilizer within livestock farmers? No, we're not, because the economics don't work, the environmental impacts don't work, and actually, it won't be a system that we are in. But we have got this really, really interesting transition period now where the farmers that are involved with YeoValley, we do start to look at sharing knowledge and understanding of how we can transition to systems which are less reliant on those external inputs and how we can actually start to have a much more cyclical approach. In some respects, it's almost like starting to go back to some of those mechanisms and those more mixed farming systems that we had 30, 40, 60 years ago really and starting to remember the importance of rotation, of diversity, of all these sort of things. Because again, those are what we're going to need to have to allow our farmers to be slightly more protected from the volatility of what's coming in terms of rising input costs. And also from an environmental impact, we know that actually, livestock are an integral part, especially grazing livestock, an integral part of our food systems moving forward. But the way that we can justify that is by making sure that they are effectively utilizing our natural environments, so our grasses, those sort of things, rather than having those systems that are propped up on a huge amount of inputs which are coming from fossil fuels. And that's, I think, the really key distinction when we move forward, as Tim says, how do we have a farming system which is based on healthy natural systems rather than are based on fossil fuel inputs? I think if we can start to make that differentiation, I'm really optimistic for the future of farming. It is an amazingly important sector that is thriving, and if we can make sure that we've got something that is building soil, is helping produce resilient, robust rural communities with farming as the centre, then I'm really positive about where we're going.

Tim Mead: I'd just like to add that in energy generation, everybody realises that fossil fuels, coal power stations are going, we're trying to get away from oil and gas-generated electricity. You look at the vehicle world, they're forecasting, is it 25% of cars now are electric cars, and they're banning fossil fuel cars within another eight years. As a nation and as a world, we accept the decarbonization of energy generation and transport. Activating soil is really just doing exactly the same in the food system. Soil has a runway, and there are lots of different runways that are beginning to end. We can't farm an oil-based farming system for a thousand years. It's proven that it's been about 100-year experiments. The unfortunate thing is all of that lost knowledge of integrating, building fertility, rotational farming, and actually even about oil itself, the structure of soil, the compaction of soil... I mean, I think Becky is far better qualified, but I think there is something like 270 different soil types in the UK. On our own farm, we've got the Nordrach Series, the Crediton Series, we've probably got about six different soils just on our own farm. It is an incredibly complicated thing. And yet, it is almost field by field getting the right leaves above the ground and the right roots below the ground is the way that we can transform farming in the future.

Jamie Dujardin : It's a really exciting space to see how new methods are coming along in order to regenerate soil and in order to drive change. I guess two questions that are in my mind for your average listener to This Is Altruistiq podcast, the first is on the topic of measurement and maybe best place to be like what options are available to a business to understand their impact on soil and whether they are growing or shrinking their soil stocks?

Becky Wilson: Absolutely. I think there are a variety of different testing methods that are out there. I suppose the real main two camps are whether you test a tool. At the moment, if we look at what's happened, traditionally we have a model-based system. This has very much been used within our more crop farming or an arable system where you can say,"Actually... " If you want to understand what's happening in terms of how much carbon you're pulling into the soils, then actually you can say,"Well, I'm doing this management practice so I'm reducing my cultivation,I'm using cover crops." And a model sits at the back end which says,"Well, if you're doing these sort of practices across this many acres, then you'll have this number," which is your model. As I say, those models have been quite well developed within arable systems for quite a long time. Wehave various different models that we use in the UK like the RothC models, and we've got some other models which are used in the States. Those are what have generated and have been the early stages of where we are in terms of being able to quantify what's happening with carbon sequestration. As Tim said earlier, those will depend on soil types, so you can put in some data into soil type. What's really, really challenging is to try and do that in a livestock system, because in a livestock system there are so many more variables. So grass isn't just grass, have we got one species, have we got 10 species? How are we grazing it? How deep is our soil? And so, those models do exist, but they're not particularly accurate when we think about livestock. And so that's where we get to the point where those models will say, "Well, once that grassland has been down for a certain number of years, it's then at its peak in terms of sequestration, and it can't do anything else." The other challenge that we have with some of those models is that they're only actually looking at what's happening in the top couple of inches of the soil, and we know that actually where a lot of the magic is happening is further down. So the models will take us so far. They tend to err on the side of conservatism, so again, they will give you a slightly small value. And for livestock, they're not massively useful. So then the other option is we have to start taking some measurements. And then, again, there is a wide range of measurements that you can take as we are doing with the farmers involved with the Yeo Valley project, where we go and we walk around every single field on all of the farms and we take individual samples to actually having a slightly more extrapolated approach where you start to choose fields that you can then use in terms of your representative fields. So there's this field selection bit. Then, what tests are we going to do? There's a variety of different testing mechanisms that we can use. This is one of the big challenges we have is that we have an analysis method, so we can have samples that we can take from the field and send to the lab and those samples can then be analysed for soil organic matter or soil organic carbon. But then we also have a range of things that farmers can look at in the field in terms of counting numbers of worms, looking at how their soil is structured, looking at how much water it will hold onto. And then for those farmers and for us further up the supply chain, it's about pulling all of those metrics together to look at what does that provide us in terms of that robust understanding of carbon and how does that also fit into performance and soil health. A key part of those in-field discussions is things like how many samples do you take. What depth do you take the samples at? How often do you go back and retest those fields? Again, are you testing every five years, every 10 years? And so that's where some of this complexity comes in to be able to accurately understand the potential, especially within grass-based or livestock-based systems that's based on the fact that we've got varying soil type climate management and all those. It's a complex picture of layering all those variations on top of each other to come up with a sampling strategy which meets future needs and also provides that farmer or those groups of farmers with the information that they need to be able to make better decisions.

Jamie Dujardin : That's so interesting, Becky. To the example at Yeo Valley, so at Yeo Valley, this is happening on Yeo Valley's farms but also I guess on attached supplier farms. And so, you get to build the whole supply chain picture of how soil from YeoValley-produced goods is changing. Is that a fair analysis of what's happening?

Becky Wilson: We are incredibly excited about the project that we have with Yeo Valley. Yeah, we're working on Yeo Valley's home farms and then also about 25 farms that are supplying into the Yeo Valley business to understand what's happening. And whereas, if you were an individual farmer coming out into this from a starting point, you would maybe choose five or six fields across your farm, we are going to that incredibly important detail, so each individual field across each individual farm. We've got about seven and a half thousand fields that we've tested so far, huge number of sample points so that actually we really have delved into the detail for these farms, so that again for Tim and the other team at Yeo Valley, they've got an understanding and a certainty about where those base levels are. But the really exciting thing with this project is it's not just a baselining project. So yes, we've spent the last two years walking around lots and lots of fields and engaging with a lot of farmers so that we've got that really good robust baseline, but the exciting thing is then working with those farmers in the interim period before we retest to actually support them to understand what do those numbers mean for them and actually where can we then target management practices to actually improve that so that when we come back and do that incredibly intensive testing again we can actually be really confident that those change from carbon from baseline to when we retest as a result of management practice. It can't be put down to anything else because we've done that in every single field and we've done exactly the same replicated protocol.

Jamie Dujardin : So from the sustainability side, soil practices, growing soil stocks is huge, exciting, and what we've learned already is that that is a huge proportion of impact that a farm can have in tackling the climate crisis. I guess taking this may be in a slightly different direction then, and Tim would love to think about this from your perspective as well, doing this measurement, and understanding this problem is fundamentally a cost to a business, a farming business. I'd love to understand, in your eyes, what levers exist to incentivise doing the measurement and taking care of the soil that you have. Are the levers in place to make this commercially a good decision for Yeo Valley?

Tim Mead: I think it's 60 years of farming in the Yeo Valley, 50 years as a yoghurt maker,30 years with a yoghurt brand, so everything that organic farming does is about soil. It's about soil, not oil. We've been investing in paying farmers to produce organic milk for the last 30 years. When you look at the economic benefits, I guess two million portions of Yeo Valley organic products are taken off supermarket shells every week. And therefore, the ability of our consumers to understand why they're buying our products is partly because we're making the investment in the farmers to produce food in a way that they appreciate and they respect. We've been at investing in the farms and selling it to consumers for 30 years. I think this is just a real affirmation of what we've been doing in terms of we all have to invest in the right way of doing something, and there are no shortcuts. But just going back a little bit to the measuring and the modelling, anybody who follows the government debt situation will say that there are a huge amount of financial models that are coming out with different projections. In the COVID pandemic, there were huge amounts of projections that were wildly different. If this was, I don't know, projecting who was going to win the World Cup, let's go with a model. This is actually about the human race and our survival to survive the climate crisis. And therefore, during COVID, we built testing centres all over the country in a matter of months that were able to do 10 million tests a week. In the soil world, if suddenly every farm wanted to test every field, we are years away from being able to do that. But I think it's as serious. I go back to my point, is that I think on a field-by-field basis, the UK should look at its soil stocks. We don't know what the art of the possible is. There are hugely different ranging numbers and calculations. The BBC's saying that milk has a carbon footprint of three units of CO2. The European average is one. Where is the continuity, and where is the accuracy of the data? From a Yeo Valley perspective, because we don't know what is possible, what we do know is that we've got 375,000 tons of CO2 equivalent in our soils on our farms, and we know that if in 40 years... I mean, in the current world, talking about 40 years is ridiculous, but in soil type, it's not ridiculous. In 40 years time, if we have put 100,000 tons extra, just 25%, then everything we produce will not have any footprint. I don't know if it's possible, but with all the misinformation and the lack of understanding, we are in a very privileged position to say, "Okay, that's what we're going to do, and we are going to do our best to do it." Everybody will say you can't and then this and all of that, additionality and permanence. But as an accountant, if my opening stock is 375 and my closing stock is 475 in 40 year’s time, I can go to sleep... Well, I won't because I'll probably be dead in 40 years time. But I'll be sleeping well knowing that we've given it our best shot and actually it's going to be far more accurate than any modelling system.

Jamie Dujardin : Just for the listener, what you're saying, Tim, is essentially if you can grow the amount of carbon captured or stored in your soil stocks by 100,000 times over the next 40 years, then essentially all of the products produced by YeoValley will have offset themselves by the growth of carbon maintained in soils tocks, which is a huge leap.

Tim Mead: Just to be clear, we need to repeat that on all of our supplying farmers as well. Because we've got the baseline on a field-by-field basis, we can extrapolate that to be the total tonnage of carbon that Becky and her team have measured at three... Well, three different depths. Was it seven and a half thousand samples that we've done?

Becky Wilson: Yes. We're just finalising the last few and we'll be over 10,000 soil samples done by the time we finish this baselining. So it's a lot of bags of soil.

Jamie Dujardin : That is a lot of soil firstly, but also just hugely exciting, just going back to the earlier point around how big a lever this is that we can almost put it in the scale of the total production of the business can be captured in the soil potential of the business, which is just a crazy statistic for most people to be listening and something that we have to all taking advantage of.

Tim Mead: There are some even crazier statistics out there. I think it's the Rodale Institute in America, which is the leading light of regenerative farming. They claim that the whole of the world's CO2 emissions can be sequestered into the soil on an annual basis. That would just be wonderful, wouldn't it?

Jamie Dujardin : It would be wonderful. I think we need to do a lot more soil sampling if we're going to be confident in that one. Tim on something else you said though, which really struck me... Firstly for those listening, the practice of regenerative farming, I won't try and perfectly define it but it is a revolution in thinking about how we can grow our soil stocks and build a more resilient farming system. I recently read Sarah Langford's new book, Rooted, and one of the things I took from that was a quote of there's a quiet revolution in farming towards these regenerative practices, which is a really, really exciting place to be. I guess the other side of this is we are facing a climate and biodiversity crisis, which means we need action at massive speed and scale. And so, my question is, what can our government do, what can our businesses do, and how do we need to maybe change our system to accelerate what is currently a quiet revolution into a very fast-moving revolution in farming practices in the UK?

Tim Mead: I think it's not as quiet as Sarah probably makes out. I think it is probably gaining traction hugely whether it's government or business. Because I spoke to Sarah when she came down here, and I think the observation of the individual and the social standing of farmers... If you accept that the runway of soil is going to stop at some point if you continue to use oil-based agriculture, it's inevitable that we are going to have to regenerate soils. But if you put yourself as a farmer who, as she does in her book, like her grandfather who was respected in his community because he'd activated... We'd gone from 25% food production in the UK to 75% in the course of eight years of the Second WorldWar, so farmers hugely grew our ability to feed the nation, and that was respected to the point where there are people ripping out the hedges, using all the chemicals. Farmers were viewed in a way that was not necessarily how they would like to be seen. So the ability of farmers to be in the tribe that is actually making things better is, I think, the natural place where farmers are going to want to go. And therefore, it's not government or business's job. Farmers have got to take responsibility for their own sector, which is agriculture. It's not industry, it's agriculture. There was an agricultural revolution and an industrial revolution. So farmers have to take responsibility to regenerate the damage that has been done. I think it is wholly incumbent that farmers have got to stand up and get there themselves. I think all the signs are that they are because who wants to be part of the tribe that is making things better and regenerating, restoring nature, and reversing climate change when everybody should want to be part of that tribe. And therefore, I think it is a natural progression or a natural evolution of where farming is going.

Jamie Dujardin: It's so exciting. I mean, when I read the book, obviously the term the quiet revolution came out. I think one of the most interesting things I've also read recently is that the team at Knepp who are obviously famous for the Rewilding World are even moving into regenerative farming, and so it can't be that quiet and it must make a lot of commercial and business sense to be going after this. So it's really, really exciting. I've got to ask just because it's bad to me not to ask the one hard question, which s, if you were to look at the common criticism of regenerative farming by your George Monbiot’s and co., the argument always made is, does this inevitably reduce yields, make it a higher requirement for us to farm more land and push up food prices? I guess I would love to understand from your experience, Tim, and your experience, Becky, working with farms, is that a trend you see in practice, or is that more a theory than a true reflection of what is happening?

Becky Wilson: Certainly from my side, actually, well, as I say, you're not going to get those yields, you're not going to get that performance that you might have been. But if we look at what that performance is based on, a lot of that high input, high output farming is based on a huge amount of inputs if we look at what's happening with price volatility. So certainly the farmers that we work with that have been doing this for a number of years would say, Yes, they might not get the record-breaking yields that you want to go and boast about down the pub, but actually your inputs to getting there are much lower. Again, I think we need to stop always thinking about output and start thinking about margin. Because actually, these farmers and one of the reasons why it might have been a slightly quieter revolution is that, yes, they might not beat the record-breaking yields but they're actually making a lot more money because they're not bringing in those things which are costing the business. At the same time, you can then start to look at if you can get these things from the soil, if you can get your soil biology switched on, everything just makes a lot more sense. If we look at the summer that we've just had in terms of the incredibly high temperatures, and lack of rainfall, those farmers that actually were able to keep their crops growing were the ones that were looking after their soil. So, it's not all about output. But I think what we're also starting to develop now is some really interesting research and science and models and ways of measuring these things where it's not just about the overall output, it's also about quality. I think that's where the next really interesting of research and development will come from in terms of a kilo of beef is not the same everywhere. Actually, if we can start to look at it based on its nutritional density, similarly with milk, and we can start to see that actually those farmers that are implementing these practices that are more regenerative, that are looking after their soil, if we can start to measure the difference in terms of the product from a quality perspective rather than just a tonnage, I think we can start to really come up with some robust statistics that will help with some of those criticisms that are often levied at the industry.

Tim Mead: I think to add to that, I think it's the art of the possible. If anybody's driven an electric car, they go so much quicker than a battery car. So electric energy goes a lot quicker than combustion motors, and that is the science behind it. We've overcome that, we've built cars that can go three seconds 0 to 60 on electric batteries. I'm not sure who it is, but I think Elon Musk is intending to make soil on Mars. What we've got to do is really understand and put all of the efforts. You use artificial fertiliser, you are putting energy into the soil. If we can get the same energy there from the sun's energy, then we will grow the same crops. Whilst at the moment it's not there in terms of the overall maximum yields, but why can't we be as good at looking after soil as we have to invent electric cars? I think going back to the George Monbiot points, for tens of thousands of years, the relationship between grass and soil and animals created the fertility of the world. If there is one word that I would like to ban from the English language is plant-based, because I think it is the most horrible, confusing word. If you want to eat apples and pears and bananas and oranges and carrots and sprouts, those are vegetables and they're fruit. Just because something is plant-based doesn't mean it is good for you, doesn't mean it is good for the planet, because there are lots and lots of products that are being chemically produced and are producing food that is making us as a nation sick and other countries around the world sick. What we need to do is to focus on the difference between ultra-processed food and naturally healthy food. Unfortunately, there are some people who believe that animals don't play a part in building soil fertility, and then there are some people who believe that they are 100% necessary to build soil fertility to be able to feed ourselves. I think it was Patrick Holden's Sustainable Food Trust Report that talks about the rebalancing of our diet away from eggs and pork and chicken, to which we are growing lots of grains to produce those, to a diet that is based around much more vegetables and fruit along with dairy and beef and lamb. Because in that system, you need those animals to grow and to build the fertility of the crops. At some point, the consumer vision that anything that is plant-based is going to save the world has to be challenged, because life is a balance, the world is a balance. We cannot ignore history about how the fertility of the world came about, and it has to be done in the right balanced way of using grazing animals to eat the grass, which is building the fertility to grow the grains that we need to consume. I just think somebody at some point has got to grasp the neck and say that not all plant-based is going to save the world, and some plant-based is actually going to do more damage than we think it's doing.

Jamie Dujardin :Just from what you've said there, Tim, though you haven't used the word, it comes back to this point about resilience, a 10,000-year period where we successfully maintained a system that was healthy and so on. In the last maybe 100 years, we're saying that this system is now no longer healthy and we need to return to that healthy way of doing things. It's not only around yields today, but it's around yields for the next 10,000 years that is the most important thing and output that is stable. So makes total sense.

Tim Mead: All the farmers now are going back to having multi-specie varieties in their fields, so it's diversity in the fields. To split the world between plant-based and non-plant based is not basically embracing the diversity of the planet that we live on.

Jamie Dujardin :Thank you so much for your time, by the way. This has been absolutely amazing. If I can try and summarise three things that I've really taken for this, one is, I keep repeating it, but it's come up a couple of times, it's very exciting, is this concept of resilience. I think it's so important that we continue to think in this way, and we can apply it to a number of wider concepts like achieving, I don't know, net zero in 2050. But then a total collapse of the system isn't achieving the overall aim that we want. What we're saying is we need to get to a world of balance and resilience. So, it's something that is really, really, really exciting. The second is a term you mentioned a couple of times, Tim, and I think it's really, really interesting, is this oil-based agriculture. I think you're right that the average consumer doesn't quite connect between the method used on farms and the fact that that is fundamentally using the same sources of energy and chemicals as areas where we are really moving away from those sources, your transportation and heating your home and so on. And so, how do we get that message to be an easier thing for a consumer to understand is something that I'm going to definitely go away and think about a bit more. And then the third was, Becky, to your point around there are a number of ways in which we can measure this, but at a fundamental level, we just need to massively scale measurement, because there is huge potential in our carbon sinks. Maybe we just don't understand how big that potential is yet, and so actually just scaling up and measuring this stuff is going to be a huge change. I hope they all resonate with you, but just as a final question, I'd love to just ask just if you have 30 seconds each, what's the biggest challenge in this space that you wish you could fix and that will help you achieve your personal goal with the space of soil regeneration and moving towards a more resilient farming system? I say we start with Becky.

Becky Wilson:Yeah, so for me, I think if I could wave a magic wand, it would be that we'd have started measuring this stuff 30 years ago because that's one of the biggest challenges I have is that we're starting from this point, and for farmers that have already been doing a lot of good stuff, it's really difficult to show that progress and engage them in that. We can do as much as we can now, but having that good historic information about what's happened, we wouldn't be in this position if we had it, but we don't. So that's why we're having to try and work it out as we move forward.

Tim Mead: For me i I think there's a saying that says, "Any road will get you there if you don't know where you are going." I think for me having come into this as an accountant where things are factual et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, the amount of information that basically is counter-arguing is just confusing. And therefore, having an alignment on what is possible and how do we get to where we want to get to, because otherwise we'll get there, but we don't know how we got there because we don't know where we're going, and therefore, there needs to be leadership from government around what is the art of the possible and how are they going to get us there or how are they going to transition to getting there.

Jamie Dujardin : I wish I'd asked this earlier because I'd love to dive into both of those topics in much more detail, but I will leave it for another time and just say, Tim, Becky, thank you so much for your time.

Tim Mead: It's a pleasure.

Becky Wilson:Thank you.

Jamie Dujardin : It's been a really-  great conversation.I really, really look forward to seeing where Yeo Valley and Farm CarbonToolkit take this measurement space and the impact that can be had. Thank you both so much.

Thanks for listening to today's episode of This Is Altruistiq. Do get in touch if you are on a journey to understanding your business's environmental impact. The notes from this episode are available in the show notes below, and you can find more episodes on This Is Altruistiqpodcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts.

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Jamie Dujardin
Head of Sustainability Insights
Jamie Dujardin
Head of Sustainability Insights

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