Regenerative agriculture: a vision for the future
CHAP has recently acquired a range of advanced agricultural machines at Newcastle University, complementing the existing Field Scale Precision Equipment at Stockbridge Technology Centre.
The aim of the new kit is to trial and test a range of regenerative farming techniques that could benefit crop and soil health. The recent CHAP webinar, Innovative tools to overcome the challenges of regen ag, was attended by more than 100 farmers, agronomists, researchers and industry professionals, which shows the significant interest in this area.
In response to this interest, we are planning more events next year covering regen ag, including demonstrations of the new kit at the farm at Newcastle University.
While there is no single, clear definition of the term, an article by Peter Newton et al in Frontiers in Sustainable Agriculture opens by stating that “Regenerative agriculture is an alternative means of producing food that … may have lower – or even net positive – environmental and/or social impacts.”
Regen ag is a catch-all term used to describe a method of farming that encompasses a variety of sustainable agricultural techniques in combination. It is widely accepted to be a means of delivering sustainable food systems, including five core principles:
Dr Dave George, Reader in Precision Agronomy at Newcastle University, suggests that a sixth principle – Understand the context of your farm operation – is needed.
Regen ag has countless benefits, from ecological and economical to community benefits. The improvement and restoration of soil health and fertility leads to healthier crops and improved yields which again leads to economic benefits.
Using fewer chemicals, pesticides, and fertilisers not only provides financial benefits for the farmer, but also has a positive impact on the environment. Regen ag practices help to reduce farm environmental footprint and to tackle climate change.
Other potential benefits include improvements in water quality and quantity by using less chemical and pesticide inputs, water efficiency from better soil health leading to better soil water holding capacity, as well as the reversal of biodiversity loss on the land, and in our air, water, and soil. And these are only to mention a few of the benefits that could be achieved.
There are also social benefits: regen ag brings people with the same interest together. There are growing numbers of supportive networks on social media such as the Regenerative Agriculture Group and Farming for a Better Climate but also organisations worldwide – RegenAg in Australia and savory, The Carbon Underground and The Ecological Farming Association in the United States – which are providing support and services to participants.
There are still many open questions: What works where? When? Why? How? There is no one technique that fits all situations, and the transition to regen ag is far from straightforward. There are several challenges to successfully integrate regen ag practices into existing farming systems. Soil type, duration of seasons, weather conditions and other farm practices all have to be taken into account, but the farmer’s actions – which often rely on traditions – also plays an important role.
James Standen, farm manager at the Newcastle University farm, experienced a number of challenges during his own transition to regenerative farming: challenges related to weather, soil, timeliness, and business resilience.
One of CHAP’s five key areas of focus is Soil Health, which encompasses regen ag, with the intention to achieve a more sustainable agriculture through:
The CHAP New Innovation team has recently developed a business case to address the question how to de-risk changes associated with adopting Regen Ag practices to ensure a sustainable future for farming. The report on ‘De-risking regenerative agriculture decisions’ will be published on our website shortly.
Dr Maurer said: “I am looking forward to seeing the machinery at Newcastle University in action next year. We are excited to be able to share our experience with the farming community. I believe that regen ag is one step into the right direction towards reaching Net Zero and towards improving the health of the planet.”