Regenerative agriculture focuses on the health of our soils – returning the structure, fertility and strength of soil to support agricultural production. Here we unearth how AF Members are already transitioning to regenerative measures, and give some ideas of how AF can help.
Get started at Groundswell
AF attended the Groundswell Festival, the UKs primary regenerative event, for the first time in 2022 and are pleased to have returned this year. Groundswell “…provides a forum for farmers, growers, or anyone interested in food production and the environment to learn about the theory and practical applications of regenerative farming systems.”1
Regen trends in AF Members’ procurement
We have seen increased interest at AF in Members looking at companion cropping, such as buckwheat in OSR which encourages biodiversity, smothers weeds, mobilises phosphate and breaks down quickly in frosty conditions. Or clover which grows quickly to smother weeds, encourages pollinators and forms a living mulch for cereals.
From a seed perspective AF has saw a 99% increase in demand for AB9 wild bird mix from 2021 to 2022, which is popular as it attracts £732/Ha2 from the RPA and is also an effective game cover, also a 34% increase in orders for AB1 nectar mix which attracts a payment of £614/Ha3.
There has also been significant interest in RGT Grouse which was promoted to the AHDB candidate list in 2023, and leads the next generation of BYDV resistant wheats4.
We have also seen increases in demand for bio pesticides and non synthetic fertilisers, including sulphur as a fungicide and to improve nitrogen use efficiency.
AF Members at the vanguard of regenerative farming
AF Member James Bucher farms 600 ha and since 2018 has focused on improving soil health and broadening the rotation, as featured in the latest yourAF magazine. James and his family host regular farm walks and he says “I like showing people around and talking about what we can do to farm better.”5 And this is an admirable outlook shared by regenerative practitioners, freely sharing information and learning together.
Another AF Member, Rosie Begg, farms 160 acres of blackcurrants and is transitioning to regenerative farming. She is also a partner in the Wendling Beck Environmental Project, is part of Wensum Farmers – the Upper Wensum Environmental Cluster Group, and this year won the Ribena Farm Stewardship Award. Rosie has said “I really believe in collaboration, and if we want to make change and make change for nature we need to work together.”6
Additional benefits for farmers
Beyond aiding the recovery of soils, increasing biodiversity and reducing input costs and carbon emissions, Members may be able to access an increasing number of customer premiums from buyers, these include Carlsberg who aim to source all their malting barley from regenerative farms by 20407.
Partial or full regenerative systems will enable you to show your benchmarked sustainability performance and continuing improvement as the new methods embed, which is important to customers and to be able to access higher tier ELMs payments.
Reminder of five regenerative principles
John Cherry, Groundswell host farmer, lists five principles of regenerative agriculture as follows:
- Don’t disturb the soil
- Keep the soil surface covered
- Keep living roots in the soil
- Grow a diverse range of crops
- Bring grazing animals back to the land8
Review to renew and refresh business performance
We are hearing from increasing numbers of Members who are finding it difficult to maintain yield and financial performance by continuing with intensive practices, and they are now looking hard at aspects of regenerative farming to take pressure off their soils and alter their inputs. If you’re not already reviewing your options, now is a great time to do so.
For more information please see the referenced links below
5 June 2023, Fired up about fixing the fundamentals in farming, yourAF July 2023 p10-11