Integrating regen ag into modern agronomy
My interest in regen ag dates back to my gap year in Australia, observing the adjustments farmers had made to make the most of their often-arid soils. This led to me completing my dissertation on controlled traffic farming, which really cemented my passion for soil health.
I now work for national agronomy services company Agrii, covering south-east Wales, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. We experience heavy rainfall and as a result, high disease pressure, which means I often need to think differently when advising customers.
The regen ag movement has certainly reignited my interest in alternative systems. It might sound like a clash of ideals, being an agronomist who champions regen ag, but it’s important for me to advise my customers as if I was farming their land myself.
I’m lucky, my customers are open-minded, and some are already practising elements of regen ag, such as adding sheep on tack on cover crops into the rotation. This is proving very valuable given our geography. There are many benefits to this, especially when avoiding a mono-culture cover crop. Done correctly it offers soil cover and variable depth root activity, as well as integrating livestock: all of which are embedded in the principles of regen ag.
Advising on this as part of my service provides more rounded advice for my customers and contributes to my drive to only provide the ‘right’ advice. In many ways, it’s future-proofing the art of agronomy.
Chemistry is being revoked at a fast pace and this looks unlikely to change. So we need to look at cultural control methods first rather than ‘answers out of a can’, which leave you vulnerable especially given their uncertain future. This is exacerbated thanks to the problem of rising pesticide resistance, prime examples being black-grass and cabbage stem flea beetle.
Of course, this is where regen ag comes to the fore, reducing our reliance on synthetic chemistry. I’m lucky that my employer supports this and has a commitment to sustainable food production, putting integrated pest management (IPM) and soil health at the core of its business.
There is also a lot to be taken from organic farming. Ultimately organic farmers face the same pest and disease pressures as those in conventional farming but seek alternative solutions. So why not be more open to exchanging knowledge?
As I complete my Nuffield Scholarship journey, I hope to reach out to UK farmers in the next few months, to understand the current situation and form a benchmark. This will better inform me as I then travel Europe and gather learnings.
Part of this will be speaking to those who feel differently about the regen ag movement and have perhaps felt affronted by it. It’s important to unpick this and understand the reasoning behind it.
To speak to Chris about his Nuffield Scholarship or regenerative agriculture, connect with him on Twitter. Alternatively, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on CHAP’s work to promote and advance regenerative agriculture, go to Field Scale Precision Equipment, also see Getting to the Heart of Regen Ag, Five benefits of adopting intercropping techniques, Carbon capture: a farmer’s view and Regenerative agriculture: a vision for the future.