July 23, 2021

Article

There is nothing new about regenerative farming, but it has become a hot topic recently. The farming policy revolves around soil health, which helps maintain outputs whilst using less inputs. This has provoked a lot of conversation, especially in connection with the combination of maximising carbon capture in the soil and ensuring there is enough food to feed the growing population.

Water retention, erosion and compaction are several issues effecting soil quality. These all have a direct link to the productivity and hence profi tability of land, whatever type of farm you run. With direct subsidies for land being phased out farmers need to look at how they maximise their returns from the land that they farm.

Several different farming methods have been discussed in the past, including ecological, biodynamic, and sustainable farming. Traditional mixed farming is a way that would fit into the regenerative farming method. Crop rotations are being lengthened to try and improve the organic matter in the soil to hold as much carbon as possible. Increased organic matter in soils, either from grazing or incorporating farmyard manure (FYM) should help to reduce the need for artificial fertilisers, whilst maintaining outputs and profitability. Winter cover crops are used to reduce soil erosion and the crops help maintain carbon in the soil but sprays, mainly glyphosates are needed to kill off the cover crops in the spring, which is a downside.

Minimum tillage (min-till) for farmers has long been a method used to minimise establishment costs and avoiding disturbing the soil structure if compaction and weed control is not an issue. Soils types and the increasing resistance of weeds to sprays have meant this is not always a viable farming option.

As part of the crop, rotation livestock can be a useful way of controlling weeds and help to naturally fertilise the land.

Collaboration between farmers can facilitate this process by helping different farms in the same area to work together to be more productive and reduce costs, without sacrificing outputs.

As an example, an arable farmer could work with the local sheep farmer and graze the winter cover crops, which will aid the natural fertilization and reduce the use of sprays to kill off the cover crops when the spring crops are planted. Labour could also be shared, as busy periods are at different times of the year, such as harvest and lambing. This could prevent the need for extra staff needing to be employed and keep costs down.

There have been several studies done on the potential costs saved through regenerative farming. Some figures show that reductions in fertiliser, establishment costs, including fuel, could be over £150 / ha. If wheat was £150 / tonne then assuming the yield is not reduced, or for a 10 t/ha crop of wheat the reduction is not more than 10% the gross margin would be better. There would also be cashflow savings by not needing to buy so much fertiliser and fuel earlier in the year.

Whilst there is no one solution to how food is produced efficiently and profitably, different methods of farming, including regenerative, should be considered to ensure that your farming business thrives in the future.

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