It encourages the soil’s natural biological and mineral systems to flourish, leading to richer, more productive soil and an environment in which people, crops, farm animals and wildlife can all thrive.
- It traps carbon rather than releasing carbon.
- It builds soil full of life rather than killing this vital resource.
- It increases biodiversity rather than further reducing it.
- It produces food that makes us well rather than makes us ill!
- It protects, rather than harms!
- It is a change of mindset and a path to get on!
Here we briefly list what techniques are used and how they work.
(Further explanation is available in the Learn More section)
Unfortunately our farmers haven’t been taught these at agricultural college and many do not yet know of the benefits to both their farm, their pocket, the environment, our health and future stability.
as ploughing not only kills the life in the soil but releases C02 and increases erosion and run off. Keeping a living root in the soil helps to feed microbes that actually builds soil, capturing carbon and increasing organic matter, which is good for crops. The majority of the microbes live in the top layers of our soil. They are an amazing resource for farmers as they, together with the fungal network further below, give vital nurture and feed to plants. Conventionally tilled soils erode at a rate more than 100 times faster than their natural rate of formation. Ploughing also increases compaction which – in turn – reduces the oxygen levels (anaerobic) in the soil where less life can survive and bare soil increases surface temperature which can be a problem during our increasing periods of drought. Minimising bare soil and reducing tillage also helps to trap moisture and improves stress tolerances which cuts the need for harmful artificial fertilisers and diesel usage.
is vital as every plant gives and takes different nutrients and supports different life forms above and below the ground. Repeatedly growing one crop on the land, (monocultures) – as we do on the majority of farms, for efficiency sake, depletes the life in the soil, in turn reducing the support network for the plants grown. Different plants also have different root depths and shapes enabling plants to reach more areas for nutrients and water. It is the living roots that exude sugars that help fungi, bacteria and other microbes capture carbon deep in the soil where it is more likely to remain long term. These roots, once dead, also create useful tunnels for air, water, subsequent root growth and worms etc to go through. Mixed planting, relay cropping, double cropping and intercropping boost life in the soil, helping the plants become more resilient, stronger and also more nutritious for the consumer. On another level we also need to diversify what we grow so that we produce more of what we need locally. It is essential we reduce transport costs and build local resilience /food security.
as this adds natural fertiliser, which stimulates soil life. Animal urine, manure, saliva and the act of grazing and trampling, not only helps soil fertility but can spread seeds, increase microbial life, speeds up, nutrient cycling, photosynthetic rates, carbon capture and helps capture water in divots made by animal hooves. This has been proven to stimulate plant growth, even in desert-like conditions and would be beneficial on all land that has been depleted by intensive agriculture. The incorporation of animals into an arable rotation also gives the land a worthwhile recuperation period from cropping a reduced species mix. By adding a period where the soil can be fed with a mixed herbal ley as well as the animal dung etc could be part of more arable rotations. Stimulating soil life on depleted soils can also be done with bioactive, aerated, fungal rich composts and worm juices but cows can be easier! These cows though can be followed with chicken which reduce soil pathogens and then with pigs to help prepare for land for planting. Every animal species provides different ecosystem services – it’s all a matter of balance, ensuring the land doesn’t have too much or too little of one thing!
is an important part of the regenerative jigsaw and offers alternative income streams for landowners. Ideally large areas of land are used as they can offer wildlife a more diverse habitat. Corridors between these areas are encouraged in order that animals, insects, seeds and fish can travel further without obstruction, mimicking the natural world better. Rewilding is not about leaving nature to take over but about managing cooperation with nature. It involves, for example, the identification of where it is appropriate to block unnecessary old drains and drainage ditches in order to create thriving river courses and wetland areas; choosing where dead branches can be left; identifying suitable species for living alongside others and using old native breeds in family groups, with careful utilisation of certain grazing animals for the different services they offer. It’s a slow process of watching, learning, adapting and enhancing. In flood risk areas, it could be the introduction of beavers after proper impact assessments have been made. (Support for this can be found in the useful links section).
as much as possible by maintaining living roots at all times, which feed beneficial microorganisms that help build soil and create good soil structure. It helps too to add biologically-rich compost, preferably containing a plethora of mycorrhizal spores and / or the addition of grazing animals on mixed leys, as detailed. This is only needed occasionally to reboot the soil’s ecosystem services, as if there is permanent cover over the soil and living roots within it, this wonderful underground life will be maintained. Be aware that the growth of amazing mycorrhizal fungi, which help plants in numerous ways, really kicks off when a mix of seven or more species is grown all together but they are depleted by artificial fertilisers, fungicide and the repeated planting of brassicas, for example. Fungi applications can be cultivated for inclusion in composts or grown within aerated compost that isn’t turned. Healthy soil, teaming with life, needs to be fed with living roots, dead roots, leaves and microorganisms which all eventually becomes humus, the soil’s back up battery! Soil life is depleted if not protected and fed and is easily when damaged with tillage, mono crops, being left bare and chemicals. Humates can help but should only be used short term and can be deemed unnecessary and extractive.
artificial fertiliser, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and the misuse of manure. These all disrupt life in the soil, emit greenhouse gasses, reduce carbon sequestration, increase the toxins in the land, in the water table, in our animals and in our food. The nutritional content of what we eat is also reduced. By increasing landscape function (improving the life in the soil, planting legumes and trees that help microbes fix nitrogen, increasing the diversity of what’s grown, boosting biodiversity, keeping a living root in the soil, covering the soil and utilising natural systems, etc, it will become easier to go without costly chemicals. As farms reduce from high artificial fertiliser input, they can boost life with a short-term use of humates but this is extractive, expensive and secondary to increasing landscape function. Better to reboot the soils system with compost teeming with life, include fungi. It is also vital to reduce the use of antibiotics in our farm animals. Many are used only to promote more rapid growth and the prevention – rather than the treatment – of disease in animals! By reducing stocking numbers and cramped conditions for farm animals, by choosing suitable breeds and allowing natural behaviours, so the need for antibiotics will reduce. Antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to us all!
to help with drainage, moisture retention and to encourage beneficial insects and predators. Trees recycle nutrients which feed other plants, animals and fungi, which go on to nourish the soil further. Trees provide natural protection for farm and other animals, as well as for our crops. Trees can help reduce polluted water reaching rivers and ponds. Agroforestry has massive potential to add an extra income stream to a farm, helping to provide protection against losses due to wet summers or mild winters and seasonal financial peaks and troughs. Perennial species (crops, forages, shrubs and trees) are those able to regrow and continue to reproduce grains, seeds, fruits, and biomass after the initial harvest. They can be harvested numerous times: for up to 10 years for crops and much longer for forages, shrubs and trees. Perennials, along with soil biology, provide a basis for a new agricultural revolution and they offer a multitude of benefits to the farm and the farmer. (LINK Perennial section)
as this keeps the microbial and fungal life stimulated and fed, which in turn creates soil organic matter and captures carbon. Put simply plants turn CO2 in the atmosphere into carbo-hydrates, much of which is sent through their root tips to feed microorganisms including fungi and bacteria in return for nutrients, micro-nutrients, water, natural fungicides and hormones. In this process some of the carbo-hydrate is trapped in the soil and produces soil clumps (aggregates) helping the soil physically. Some scientists estimate that 85-90% of the nutrient’s plants require are made available to them through these mutually beneficial / symbiotic, relationships! If the roots are from a variety of plants it is far better as this variety supports more of a variety of microorganisms and at different depths. The deeper in the soil the carbon can be captured, the more likely it is to remain, long term. Also, with a mix of species and root types, more life underground can be supported, more carbon can be captured and more nutrients, including essential micro-nutrients that are often lacking in our food, can be made available by the work of microorganisms, indeed, the better the entire ecosystem functions. Pasture cropping, the addition of mixed faeces, herbal leys and multi-species cover crops will help with this.
as doing so only reduces our natural capital. Every area, field, or part of a field is different, it also changes and needs to be treated accordingly. In order to increase the soils ability to support more photosynthesis and become more efficient, multi species, herbal leys can be established. Then, if mob grazed to ensure more of the species are eaten but not overly so, they will quickly regrow. It will take more time but it will enable higher stocking rates eventually as the land will be working to its potential. Ideally, this land will then be able to support a few crops before a mixed species is again established. Gaining knowledge on ecosystem relationships and keeping a close eye on the ecosystem’s health is important. So, too, is having a flexible agricultural system that can adapt to nature’s complexities. It is important, for example, to know when and where to farm and when and where the land needs rejuvenation. A significant difference is also made by following permaculture principles and utilising local resources rather than transporting them in from elsewhere. If, for example, there is a large need for energy, renewables offer a healthy alternative, if there is a large production of methane from slurry, this can create energy, if a large amount of water is used, is there a drain that can be unblocked and there may be a local source of compost material currently underused. If only the top half, or less, of the green leaf is removed during each grazing period, animal growth and / or milk production will increase by 60 per cent. See holistic management in the Learn More section.
as the food upon which our lives depend, in turn depends upon the soil – both its quality and its quantity. We are, unfortunately, losing soil at an alarming rate. It is flushed away off our fields and hillsides into our rivers, seas and oceans taking soil life, nutrients, precious carbon and pollutants with it. Such soil loss is caused by bad soil management, the stripping of vegetation which binds the soil to the land, the reduction in microorganisms in the soil that help form soil structure and hold water, the removal of hedgerows, the lack of attention to drainage control and retention by landowners and in thoughtless urban and infra-structure development. As a consequence, we not only continue lose our life support system but lose wildlife at an alarming rate and lower the level of the land against sea level. In addition, the quality of the remaining soil is degraded. It is estimated that between 1980 and 1995 our soil lost 18% of its organic matter and the nutrients in our foods have suffered as a result. A further very worrying implication stems from the fact that soil stores more carbon than all the vegetation, atmosphere and oceans of the world combined. Soil degradation and loss directly reduces the contribution of the soil to the storage of carbon. The problem is compounded by the ability of the soil to release large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere through oxidization: more carbon, in fact, than that currently released by the burning of fossil fuels.
WHY THIS IS URGENT
9% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Britain come from agriculture and 25% comes from our food and drink as much is imported, packaged and overprocessed.
A recent report commissioned by the UK government from the Committee for Climate Change has warned that without enormous GHG reductions we should be planning for a devastating global temperature increase of around 4 degrees by 2100. That implies massive migration, food insecurity, sea level rises and further harm to virtually all life on Earth. This is why the government, most county councils plus many town and parish councils have declared an emergency and are trying to reduce GHG emissions.
More extreme weather in the UK costing both financially and environmentally.
We are losing soil at an alarming rate, between 1980 and 1995 we lost 18% of soil organic matter and the nutrients in our foods have suffered as a result.
Soil is flushed away, onto our roads, into our rivers, seas and the ocean.
Here you can see how quickly our green and pleasant land can dry out, 2018!
Algae blooms from nitrogen fertilisers suffocating the life in our rivers and oceans.
How Regenerative Agriculture Works
We also continue to lose wildlife too at an alarming rate. More than 40% of UK species have declined since 1970, 60% globally. More than a quarter of mammals in the UK face extinction. Of course, this is also down to us building on green areas, cutting down woodland and draining peatland but the intensification / industrialisation of agriculture and the use of chemicals has had devastating impacts.
Many farmers don’t know how harmful the chemicals and regenerative agriculture methods they use are. It is the norm, used widely and indeed taught at college. Why would you not trust a fertiliser that is sold as safe? However, a large proportion of nitrogen fertiliser is washed away, it harms life in the soil, kills fish and aquatic organisms, contaminates drinking water and it’s production produces large amounts of harmful greenhouse gasses.
Chemicals used on the land and on our crops are now in us all and though a small amount, occasionally may not harm us, levels are increasing and we do not know what harm a mixture of chemicals can have on our health. It is unlikely they are beneficial though and increasingly there is evidence that such chemicals are causing us enormous harm.
Life on Earth is suffering due to climate change. Food and water insecurity are already extreme issues for many. We are likely to see a massive increase in forced migration. Currently there are over 70 million refugees, 30 million under 18.
BUT THERE IS HOPE
Farmers are in a unique position to capture carbon, through photosynthesis, into their soil organic matter. As soil stores more carbon than both the atmosphere and all the plants and trees in the world combined, it has the capacity to store a lot more carbon and is the simplest and cheapest source of carbon capture we’ve got. It is also capable of storing it for long periods, so long as the ground is not disturbed, unlike trees, that die or get cut down.
Our governments know this but have the massive task of turning the mighty agricultural ship around. We though can help speed up change through our consumer choices and by spreading the word! (See Regenerative Consumers section – link)
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?
Regenerative farming techniques for healthy soils brings so many benefits – to all of us as consumers and citizens, to farmers, wildlife and the planet.
When thinking about eating for a healthy life and a healthy planet, the way that our food is produced is of crucial importance. Weight for weight, fresh, local and regeneratively produced plants and animal are likely to be higher in nutrients than foods that have been stored for long periods, potentially contain hazardous chemicals and are produced using intensive farming practices where the environment, including the soil, is not nurtured.
Meat from animals raised on mixed pasture (herbal leys), with a range of grasses and herbs and potentially hedges and trees to also occasionally forage from, are far healthier and better for us than animals kept in intensive conditions with processed fodder given to them in order that they grow unnaturally quickly
Plants too that are grown in soils that have better access to more nutrients through more microbial and fungal activity will be better for us. Without a healthy soil food web (See Dr Elain Ingram talks) the roots of plants aren’t fed as well.
Regenerative methods to farming enable more life in the soil as deep, regular ploughing and chemical use is reduced. Both ploughing and chemicals harm life in the soil by cutting them and exposing them to the air and light.
See video here on how plants need healthy soil – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ugaL6wsXME
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlREaT9hFCw – how the soil web works
GREATER FOOD SECURITY
Numerous food scares such as Mad Cow disease, the horse meat scandal of 2013 and cases where people have died from allergic reactions to unlabelled ingredients remind us that it can be difficult to know where and how our high street food has been produced. The shortages and panic buying which accompanied Covid 19 are further evidence of how fragile the global food system is.
More and more people are turning to their local producers for a healthier, fresher and more sustainable food supply. Direct farm-to-fork marketing enables you to develop a relationship with your local suppliers of vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products, learn how the plants and animals have been raised and even in some cases visit the farm itself. This approach creates a satisfyingly direct link between you and the people who have responsibility for producing what you consume. It enables you to ask questions about how the food was grown, the climate and environmental impacts of their farming systems and a range of other related issues such as the farm’s contribution to local community flood resilience and animal welfare.
CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE
A recent collaborative project by scientists from all over the world assessed the hundred most effective ways of drawing harmful carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Some of the biggest and quickest gains to be made are in the farming and land use sectors, and in particular regenerative practices including cover crops, minimising soil tillage, planting trees on farms and replacing ranching and ‘feed lot’ cattle systems with holistic planned grazing. What makes this climate mitigation opportunity even more amazing is that these gains can be made quickly and without the use of new technologies or complex industrial infrastructure. Nature is all that we need – the wonderful ability that plants have to photosynthesise and thereby turn atmospheric carbon dioxide into useful soil organic matter.
Chris Jones 3 minute video on this topic World Economic Forum webpage
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/09/here-s-how-we-can-use-agriculture-to-fight-climate-change/ Enhanced biodiversity
Project Drawdown website https://www.drawdown.org/
FLOOD AND DROUGHT MANAGEMENT
More carbon in the soil and more plant cover over the soil means better water absorption and retention. So when it pours with rain, much of the water is absorbed (instead of running off into roads, drains and watercourses, taking soil and chemical residues with it – as tends to happen with conventional farming). It thereby reduces the risk of flooding in settlements downstream of regenerative farms, improves the water quality and biodiversity of local rivers and lakes and retains moisture in the soil so that crops are more resilient to drought conditions.
Insert link to Chris Jones 3 minute video on this topic
When we reduce damage to complex soil communities by ploughing less, and stop killing soil-living organisms by spraying them with herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, nature can restore itself and a multitude of interdependent lifeforms and ecosystems can re-establish themselves. Healthy soils and watercourses result in more insects, worms and other micro-fauna which provide food for birds, small mammals and reptiles. These in turn feed larger animals, and so on up the food chain, and the complex web of life is restored.
BETTER ANIMAL WELFARE
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Farm animals raised on pasture, and especially pasture with trees, live a healthier and more natural life than livestock which is kept indoors for much of the year and fed on grains and other products which are not what their stomachs are best adapted to digest. Regeneratively raised animals tend to have more space in which to roam, a variety of grasses, trees and other plants on which to graze or browse and they are far less likely to need antibiotics or other medication.