Removing soya from the diet kickstarts carbon footprint improvement

Running a family farm in West Penquite near Liskeard means Colin Dymond always has one eye on the future. Planning to leave the farm in the best state possible for his family affects all areas of farm management, including the farm’s environmental practices.

“I believe in the phrase ‘farm every day as if you’re going to farm forever, but live every day as if it were your last’,” explains Colin. “I run the farm alongside my wife Jill and my three children Tom, Matthew and Louise, knowing one day they will take over. So for me, it’s very important that we farm with the future in mind. This means we’re becoming increasingly conscious of how we farm and the environmental impact.

“It’s also clear consumers are becoming environmentally conscious and want to know more about the sustainability of their food. Therefore, I believe it’s important for the industry to showcase the work they do to prove we’re taking steps to address their concerns.”

As an Arla farmer and representative, Colin is also aware of the cooperative’s ambitious plans to reach net zero by 2050. “We’ve now started completing an annual carbon footprint audit. Our first audit showed our footprint was above the national average, leading us to consider ways to reduce it. Since implementing some important changes, we’ve received the results from our second audit showing that we’re now below average.”

The changes carried out on farm included trialling a soya and palm oil-free concentrate, producing high-quality homegrown forage and taking part in a countryside stewardship scheme.

Removing soya

“As we started to look at ways of improving our carbon footprint, removing soya and palm oil from the cows’ diet seemed like a good place to start,” says Colin. “The environmental impact of soya production is a hot topic, but for us we also wanted to avoid the risk of market volatility which comes with imported protein. So when Massey Harpers Feed Group offered us the chance to trial their new Planet range of dairy compounds, free from soya and palm oil, we jumped at the opportunity.

“We started the trial in March 2020. I was apprehensive, initially, about how the cows’ performance or production would be affected by removing soya, but the cows took to the new diet well and I didn’t notice any significant change. Importantly, we were also pleased to see production was maintained, with yield, butterfats and protein unaffected by the new feed.”

Following calving, cows are fed 7kg of Massey Harpers Feed Planet 17% compound daily before being fed a rising plane of nutrition to reach 10kg per day three weeks after calving. This continues until 100 days in milk, after which cows are fed to yield until just prior to drying off. The compound is fed twice daily at 4am and 4pm through out-of-parlour feeders.

“Since finishing the trial we’ve continued to use the soya and palm oil-free compound as we’ve been really impressed with how that particular change has improved our carbon footprint without affecting production.”

High-quality homegrown feeds

As well as removing soya from the cows’ diet, Colin believes producing high-quality homegrown forage has a role to play in feeding his cows sustainably.

“In autumn when the cows come in, we feed them a mix of homegrown grass silage and crimped cereals,” says Colin. “We aim for four silage cuts each year, starting in early May and finishing in early September. Achieving the right quality of silage to support production is very important to us; our most recent silage analysis results were 33% DM, 11.2 ME MJ/kg DM and 72% D-value.

“In the last five years we’ve taken on more land. This has meant we’ve been able to start growing barley and wheat, which is crimped and added to the ration during the winter. Producing our own cereals has proved to be cost-effective but also beneficial from an environmental perspective.”

Countryside stewardship scheme

Taking part in the countryside stewardship scheme has also helped Colin take steps to reduce his carbon footprint by helping him to enhance the environment. 

“As part of this scheme we’ve been able to plant an additional 25 trees,” explains Colin. “We’ve also focused on producing suitable habitats for insects and pollinators. On steep land we’re managing some low input areas and also have pollinator strips and wildflower patches. We’ve always had two ponds on the farm, so we manage these as wildlife habitats with the aim of increasing species biodiversity.”

Research is key

For farmers looking to reduce their carbon footprint, Colin has one piece of advice: do your research.

“There is so much information out there, so doing your research is key,” warns Colin. “Discussion groups can be helpful, but also take advantage of the information and opportunities available to you. I’d recommend taking part in a carbon footprint audit to start understanding the environmental impact of your farm, and engage with the auditors and report in order to gain invaluable advice on reducing your carbon footprint. If you’re planning on making changes to how you farm then take time to plan and always think ahead with the future in mind. In my opinion, if you do this then you can’t go too far wrong!”

Farm facts:

  • 195ha with 40ha used as a rotational grazing platform
  • 50 pedigree Dorsets and 250 commercial ewes
  • 220 Holstein Friesians
  • Arla suppliers producing 8,600kg at 4% butterfat, 3.3% protein with ~2,500L from forage
  • All-year-round calving


Future Farming

Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time. 

Future Farming Programme