Understanding the meaning of regen ag

An NFU Live webinar on 7th April explored the meaning of ‘regenerative’ agriculture and its role in achieving net zero.

The virtual event discussed opportunities for how farming could enhance the environment while making potential productivity gains. This was supported by the experience of a Shropshire farmer actively practising regenerative agriculture.

CHAP Strategic Marketing Manager Janine Heath attended the webinar. She said: “The key message from the webinar is that regen ag is all about optimising the interventions we make, and that one size can’t fit all farming systems.

“With artificial solutions reducing in both availability and efficacy, it’s about maximising the ‘free’ energy and resources available to us, mainly sunlight, as this is our most sustainable input.

“By focusing on long-term sustainable food production and taking a more proactive approach to soil management, protecting watercourses and carbon sequestration, we can farm in a more regenerative way.”

During the webinar, a recurring theme was that there was no firm definition for regenerative agriculture, but that it was much wider than simply the environment in a traditional sense.

With new policy from the Government in the form of ELMS (Environmental Land Management Schemes), it is hoped that there will be flexibility in understanding, to accommodate the vast variances in farming systems across the UK.

As part of the webinar, insight was given into the ELMS Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) of which the pilot begins with soil health, tree planting and managing hedgerows. This is expected to be extended in 2022 to include wider elements such as integrated pest management (IPM) and livestock grazing. All of this can be encapsulated within regenerative agriculture.

Janine added: “At CHAP, understanding how we can apply agri-tech to help UK growers balance the pressures of productivity and sustainability means that the principles of regenerative agriculture are high on our agenda.

“We want to give farmers the tools, whether that’s the latest knowledge insight or applied solutions, to progress their net zero and regen ag ambitions. Attending this webinar and hearing that the NFU is behind demystifying the term ‘regen ag’ shows that as an industry, we are collectively striving for a shared goal.”

To conclude the webinar, Michael Kavanagh, pictured above, of Church Farm in Shropshire described his six-year journey from ‘off the shelf agronomy and cultivations’ to a thriving regenerative agriculture system.

He explained how despite farming on drought-prone sandy clay loam soils, he has been able to successfully produce wheat and oilseed rape without seed treatments, insecticides or synthetic P & K. He has also introduced 450 ewes, finishing all lambs on farm without the need for concentrates.

Among his tactics, Michael said he improved crop diversity by introducing beans and quinoa into the rotation, using cover crops to feed soil microbes, and focused on nutrition to improve the natural resilience of crops. Since improving his soils with a strip till drill, cover crops and grazing, he now direct drills crops and can aim for 9T/ha wheat yields.

Michael’s take-home advice for adopting a regenerative agriculture system was to seek farmer to farmer insight and deploy the very best in agronomic support.

For more on strip-till, go to Precision Approaches and to learn about  Soil Health and Cover Crops, see BBSRC Study.

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