Documentary calls for focus on environmental potential of regenerative agriculture

Regenerative farming should be at the heart of efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change while boosting agricultural productivity in the UK, according to a new documentary featuring FAI.

Produced by the University of Oxford’s Nature-Based Solutions Initiative (NbSI) and filmmaker Matthew Mullholland, the documentary outlines how working with nature is key to building resilience and protecting biodiversity.

By turning to regenerative agricultural practices, farmers and land managers can not only enhance the environment, but improve productivity too. 

Speaking on the documentary, which was released at the COP26 climate change summit, FAI’s regenerative agriculture lead, Clare Hill, outlined how their Oxfordshire beef farm has been transformed since adopting regenerative agricultural practices.

“For the whole time I’ve been farming I’ve always been focused on a conventional model of the more you put in, the more you get out,” she said.

Soil management rethink

But an incredibly wet winter two years ago, followed by drought the following spring, prompted Mrs Hill to rethink how she was managing the farms soils, and how they were performing for the business in return.

Since then, the farm has undergone a huge transition due to the implementation of regenerative farming practices, such as Adaptive Multi-Paddock (AMP) grazing, which aims to mimic the movements of wild herbivores across grasslands. 

This involves keeping livestock together in mobs, in a smaller grazing areas, to encourage less selective grazing and more animal impact. 

The pastures are then rested for between two, and six months, which promotes a more diverse mix of plants and grasses in the sward, deeper root growth, and increased ground cover. 

Combined, this reduces evaporation from the soil, increases the land’s water holding capacity and provides the soil with armour to maintain a more steady temperature throughout the year. All of which results in a more resilient system which keeps growing grass and plants through hotter summers and wetter winters.

Having previously dismissed the value of the farm’s floodplain meadows, Mrs Hill said she now understands their worth in terms of species diversity and the ability of different plants to unlock value deeper in the soil.

“We see that reflected in the way our animals perform,” she added. “They are happy and healthy, and what I’m finding really exciting is that we’re now finishing cattle more quickly than under previous management with very little inputs and certainly no feed or fertiliser.”

Other gains

Other economic gains have been achieved through the reduction of wintering costs, lower medicine use, and a reduction in labour.

Øistein Thorsen, FAI chief executive, said Mrs Hill’s experiences are an example of how regenerative agriculture offers cost-effective and practical solutions for combatting drought, flooding and other environmental challenges exacerbated by climate change.

“Like many parts of the world, the UK is increasingly suffering from the impacts of climate change and we’re seeing extreme weather events become more common,” he said.

“We know from science and from practices adopted on-farms that restoring and conserving the natural environment doesn’t only protect us from the impacts of climate change, but helps us improve productivity too.

“With the UK government announcing flood mitigation packages costing billions of pounds, adding regenerative agriculture to its list of options makes a lot of sense,” he added.

“We really need to ensure that these types of practices are supported financially and scientifically to enable more farmers and land managers to adopt them and benefit the climate, people and biodiversity for the long-term.”

To watch the documentary, along with two others in the series, visit the NbSI Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHYM55u-x2rwqgvd_vj7QPw

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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.