With the world watching the final few hours of the COP26 climate conference and the final conference communication, the hope of future generations appears to rest on the commitments made over these last two weeks. The reality is that although governments have a major role in enabling business and citizens to make a difference, we all have a responsibility to do our bit. The challenge of reaching Net Zero by 2040 creates a diverse range of opportunities for farm businesses and, done well, will help to reverse the declines in biodiversity that has resulted in the ecological crisis we face.

There is no blueprint to achieving this. It requires farmers to feed their curiosity and get more excited about what is going on in nature on their farms and what they can do to get the billions of workers they have access to working for them, for free.

We need a combination of actions which can make the process daunting and exciting in equal measures, starting from the ground up. It is a systems-based approach that allows us to achieve our outcomes of resilient farm businesses in a healthy landscape. Reducing inputs from chemical fertilisers and herbicides using them only for highly targeted and planned use or even not at all, combined with well-structured soils, is central to restarting biological soil processes. Anything that stresses a plant or animal exposes it to pests and diseases, just like we have come to realise with human diets, “we are what we eat” - soils, animals and plants are the same. Feeding them a highly processed and narrow diet restricts natural healthy function which triggers a spiral of decline in health, leading to more and more interventions sold to the farmer to compensate.

Fertility exists in nature whether it is by legumes or bacteria. Soil can naturally harvest some of the 74,000 t/ha of atmospheric N that sits above every field to feed the crops. Livestock diverse forage crops can: provide their own fertiliser, restructure soils, provide anthelmintics, suppress weeds, replace concentrates and nutritional supplements.

Technology also has a role. Remote sensing combined with field data is not far off being able to help assess carbon storage in soils and habitats, providing more and more data on animal health and performance. Technology can provide us with alternative energy sources and lighter weight machinery to replace fossil fuels. In turn this will reduce our carbon footprint, helping to develop soil biodiversity and protect air and water quality.

Once a fortnight, over 16 weeks leading up to the end of this year, FWAG SouthWest advisers have been coming together with some of the leading researchers, specialists, and farmers to explore what regenerative farming means, from the social to the financial and the environmental elements that create a healthy food system and environment. This will help our teams’ with the projects, initiatives and advice they are providing to help our members begin to explore the opportunities that are out there. We look forward to sharing these ideas with you over the coming months and years as we chase down our emissions to Net Zero.