It is two decades since the Howards integrated cattle into their large-scale vegetable and cereal system, and a year since they became suppliers to Grassroots Farming. That journey has transformed the way they farm, breathing new life into soils depleted by years of intensive arable production.
Little Morton Farm, at Retford, Nottinghamshire, is now home to 1,200 dairy-bred Aberdeen Angus and Hereford-cross cattle, sourced from herds calving in the spring, including one part-owned by the Howards.
The cattle flourish in the fully outdoor forage-based system, where a major part of their diet is nutrient-rich, multi-species grasses, legumes and clovers. The native breeds perform well on the diversity of plants in the multi-species leys, which require no inorganic fertiliser.
Ahead of finishing at 20-24 months, the animals spend their second summer grazing park land or river meadows on neighbouring farms.
Since regenerative farming practices were introduced at Little Morton Farm, soils can better withstand weather extremities.
Joe, who runs the cattle enterprise, enjoys sharing what he has learned with others, including delivering lectures to students in agriculture at Nottingham University.
“Giving a bucketful of information is satisfying, especially when you are getting a wheelbarrow full in return,’’ he smiles.
Joe became a Grassroots Farming supplier after a chance meeting with the team at Groundswell in 2022. “I instantly realised we were on the same page,’’ he says.
He is a “massive believer’’ in collaboration, having seen the benefits of this in a growers’ organisation, Freshgro, co-founded by his father, Max.
“It can feel a bit of a lonely place when you are putting your head above the parapet and trying to do things differently, but being part of an organisation that shares our outlook is a massive help. It is helping us to implement changes and understand how we can improve the environmental side of things.’’
Those improvements are already apparent, coming through in the carbon and biodiversity audits.
“I want to do the best we can for the environment, I think we all need to be on that journey and the regenerative approach really does make a difference to that,’’ says Joe.
It is also a system that his workforce enjoys being part of. “I like to nurture people, to help them take pride in the job,’’ says Joe. “One of the best compliments I could ever have been given came from one of the team last week when she told me what a great environment it was to work in.”
Being kinder to the soil and running a simple system has also allowed Joe to be kinder to himself, making more time to spend with his wife, Sam, and their three daughters, Emily, 11, Sophie, 9, and Chloe, 6.
“I have been guilty of pushing myself to the brink in the past, working flat out, but I didn’t want to carry on in that vein. There is a role I want to play at home too and how we farm now allows that.”