Farming with nature
Believing if you look after the land, the land looks after you, Oliver Lee of How Now Dairy wants his farm to be part of nature, not fighting it.
Since setting up his business in 2019, this ethos remains at the heart of all he does, clearly illustrated by the company achieving a carbon negative footprint for the last three years.
How Now Dairy, situated in the South Hams, is a fully integrated grass-based dairy operation delivering milk within a 10-mile radius of the farm using electric vehicles. As well as selling milk, Oliver’s deliveries also include products from other local businesses. “Everything is sourced from local producers, except the coffee beans, although even these are roasted nearby in Totnes,” says Oliver.
Starting with the land, Oliver has worked hard to build soil health and fertility. The plough is no longer used, opting for shallower tillage techniques to minimise soil disturbance when reseeding and introducing diversity to the grass leys with deeper rooting species.
“Thanks to the deep and complex root structures of species like plantain and chicory acting like permanent subsoilers, we are able to manage compaction without the use of tractors,” remarks Oliver.
The fully compostable milk packaging also contributes to soil health in a home-produced compost, mixed with farmyard manure and green trimmings, to help grow the grass from which the cows produce the milk.
Soil organic matter (SOM) levels have increased from 5 to an impressive 12%. Even at 50cm below ground, SOM is 4-5%, locking valuable carbon into the soil.
This carbon sequestration offsets the power used to milk the cows and pasteurise the milk, as well as offsetting the methane released from the cows. All this contributes to the farm’s carbon negative footprint, independently verified by Farm Carbon Toolkit.
Oliver believes How Now Dairy is the first dairy and milk delivery company able to make this claim, thereby demonstrating livestock-based food production can be part of the climate solution.
Despite being an optimist in business, Oliver has been surprised and encouraged by the high value customers place on his milk. Despite most people feeling the pinch financially, he hasn’t lost many customers, enjoying the strong loyalty of those appreciating all the business does to produce its milk sustainably.
“I also marvel at our ability to create a financially viable business from milking only 38 cows without farm subsidy,” says Oliver. And it’s a business model he hopes to replicate in other areas of the country. “I aim to build a national brand of locally produced milk on local farms supporting local businesses, based on How Now Dairy’s high ethical and environmental standards.”