BM Rural Outlook E-FINAL Spreads - Flipbook - Page 10
8 | Rural Outlook Issue 21
Agriculture | 9
Moving to the
Have the seismic lifestyle and worklife changes forced
upon us by Covid-19 kick-started a new era in British
farming? I sense that the debate around how British
farming serves the population and works for the
greater good has prompted a distinct shift. The debate
is no longer about how farming might need to adapt
in the future but how it should change now.
Like it or not, regenerative farming, a
phrase that can stir up a lot of emotion, is
already influencing UK agricultural policy
– and the momentum is building. But
what is it? In simple terms it is a system
designed to reverse climate change,
improve the sequestration of carbon
dioxide, and improve soil health and
water management. It is a lot of other
things too, of course.
What it is not is an abandonment of the
fundamental need for a viable arable and
livestock industry here in the UK. While
some lobbyists and commentators might
hope for that, all it would do is to export
our carbon and environmental footprint
to other parts of the world. It would also
destroy our landscape and lead to huge
rural and social upheaval – something
that some policymakers seem to forget.
While many of the leading exponents of
regenerative farming are motivated by
their interest in the environment, I would
argue that the time has come when all
farm businesses need to look at and
understand this system.
Renerative farming is not suited to
everyone, but as Henri Brocklebank of the
Sussex Wildlife Trust says in the following
article, all farmers and land managers
can make a difference to climate change.
Regenerative farming can
substantially reduce fixed
costs and inputs. The
leading exponents report
huge savings in machinery,
diesel and labour costs,
for example, and a lower
reliance on chemicals.
The fundamental question for many of
our clients is ‘how are we going to survive
with the loss of the BPS income?’ Step
one must be to review the farm budget
and see what impact the loss of BPS
will have and plan a way to adapt to the
changing economic climate.
The key components
of a regenerative
• Increasing diversity through
• Keeping soils covered
• Limiting soil disturbance
• Integrating livestock.
For those on less productive soils, the
answer is likely to be a lower input/output
farming system. Even those on grade
1 and 2 land will need to think about
how best to reduce inputs. If properly
implemented, regenerative farming can
substantially reduce fixed costs and
inputs. The leading exponents report
huge saving in machinery, diesel and
labour costs, for example, and a lower
reliance on chemicals.
The theory is simple – healthier soils lead
to healthier plants. Putting theory into
practice is where things get complex.
For arable farmers, the first major change
is often a move from winter to spring
sown crops, with cover or cash crops
following autumn harvest. The last few
winters have shown quite how fraught
this can be on much of the land in the
south east. One seldom quoted issue for
arable regenerative farming is a reliance
on Glyphosate, but, in general, exponents
do report a significant reduction in the
use of chemicals, especially fungicides.
and a closer monitoring of both animal
growth rates and sward recovery.
Manure management and application
The first step must be to conduct an
audit of your farm. As well as looking at
your carbon footprint, you will also need
to look at the more fundamental issues
of soil structure and compaction, soil
fertility, fencing and water supplies and
weed burden. And have you got the
A more difficult question for many is
whether or not they will continue to farm
the entire acreage. What about the less
productive land? Might this be better
put into a Stewardship or woodland
scheme, or future Environmental Land
Management Scheme? Whatever
decisions are taken, working out
your farming system to optimise the
availability of such payments will be key.
For arable farms, the first issue is your
means of drilling – much here will depend
on your soil, but low-till or min-till is only
the starting point for this lively debate.
What about sowing variety blends to
increase resilience? For the livestock
farmer it may require an investment in
fencing and water systems. There has
been some fascinating research on leys
and legume mixes. The arable farmer
will need to decide whether to establish
their own livestock enterprise or come
to an arrangement with a neighbouring
Regenerative farming should not be
confused with a ‘low tech’ approach.
To get it right requires a much
higher degree of management and
investment in technology. Yieldmapping is key, as is a move to a
more accurate – and thus reduced
– application of nitrogen. For the
livestock farmer it will most likely
mean a move to rotational grazing
These are challenging but fascinating
times. There are no simple answers, and
this system will not suit everyone. I, for
one, will be taking the opportunity postlockdown to get out and about and visit
those farmers already leading the way.
We all have a great deal to learn.