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Not following the herd
How the UK's biggest organic brand is planning for a sustainable future
04-08-2014 | Yeo Valley is one of the nation’s best loved brands. The largest organic business in the UK, its product range is one of only a handful to successfully make the leap into the mainstream and can be found on fridge shelves up and down the country. But despite its success, this family run company, based in the heart of the West Country, has remained strongly committed to its core values; doing business in a way that’s better for people and the planet.
Farming the Yeo Valley forever
As you would expect from an organic brand, doing the right thing is at the heart of Yeo Valley. Owners the Mead family have been farming in the valley since 1961, and strive to make their business really sustainable so that they can continue to farm there forever.
Over the past few years they have been investing more and more into the sustainable aspect of the business. It is their ambition that, through a combination of solar power, biomass and energy saving devices, Yeo Valley and Holt Farms, its dairy farming sister company, become energy self-sufficient in the next three to five years.
"Our philosophy is to do what's right for people, for animals and for the environment, and this includes how we finance our business."
Garth Clark, MD of Holt Farms
Late last year, Triodos Bank financed the installation of a 500kW solar array which occupies one acre of the roof at Holt Farm Dairy. The panels have the potential to generate energy for up to 225 homes and so far have produced enough energy, on average, for 140 houses so are a big investment for Holt Farms.
"Because of where we are, visual impact is very important," explains Garth Clark, MD of Holt Farms. "Although wind produces more power to the pound, we couldn’t have a wind turbine because it would have spoiled the view of the valley.
"Then, once we had decided on solar, we still had to look carefully at the visual impact. We have paid around £35,000 extra for cells that look like they are part of the roof so that they blend into the landscape.
Pass it on
Investing in renewables at Holt Farm is just the start; helping others see the benefits of incorporating sustainable initiatives is also really important to Holt Farms Ltd and the loan from Triodos will also help establish an educational link between the Yeo Valley headquarters, Holt Farm and Yeo Valley’s organic garden.
"We run public tours of Holt farm to various groups – mainly schools, businesses and Soil Association groups– to show sustainable farming at its best," explains Garth.
The tour shows how Holt Farms are working towards self sufficiency; as well as a tour of the new solar installation, visitors can see some of the smaller initiatives Holt Farms has introduced; using the warmth of the milk to heat the water that washes the dairy and powering the boiler at head office with elephant grass grown on one of the farms. The tour also shows how the soil is fertilised with manure from the dairy cows, leguminous crops are grown as part of the crop rotation cycle and how bees are important for pollination. The Triodos Bank loan has also funded a viewing gallery in the milking parlour and a classroom/meeting room.
"Using Triodos for the loan was also a very important part of Holt Farms' long-term sustainable plan. Our philosophy is to do what’s right, for people, for animals and for the environment, and this includes how we finance our business," said Garth
Although Holt Farms still has a long way to go, this latest project has made massive inroads towards energy self sufficiency.
Garth concludes: "With a business like Yeo Valley, a lot of energy needs to be generated to become truly self sufficient, but it is achievable."
photography JAMES BARKE words by RACHEL MASON
CV: Yeo Valley
When Roger and Mary Mead bought Holt Farm in 1961 they had 30 cows, a few sheep and some arable crops but soon realised the fertile land was ideal for a dairy farm. In 1970 they bought neighbouring 40 acre Lag Farm and subsequently 90 acres of land at Merecombe Farm expanding their dairy business.
They also started growing potatoes, sweet corn and strawberries for a pick your own activity and built a Tea Room. Their first trial of making yogurt was in 1972, using skimmed milk left over from clotted cream made to use in the Team Room, and by 1974 they'd started producing yogurt for local shops.
The Yeo Valley business now employs more than 1500 staff and Holt Farms Limited own and manage nearly 1300 acres of farm lank and more than 400 milking cows, producing more than three million litres of milk a year. It also runs educational tours demonstrating good agricultural and environmental practices, and a sustainable and profitable farming system.