Regenerative Farming is described as an approach to help combat the climate crisis and improve the sustainability of agriculture. But what does it really mean to be a regenerative farmer? This is a question I have pondered for a while as there is no one size fits all owing to the diversity of soil types, climate, markets, crops, and livestock systems all over the world. A google search of ‘what is regenerative farming’ will bounce back many interpretations, all slightly different but essentially advocating the following themes:

  • Reducing soil disturbance
  • Diversifying crops & livestock
  • Minimising bare soil
  • Integrating livestock
  • Reducing chemical inputs
  • Engaging local food markets and the community

This then leaves you wondering if a farmer must tick every single box, and to what extent each principle should be delivered for a farmer to consider themselves regenerative. Cereal and livestock farmers have been the most publicised sectors acclaimed as regenerative due to the larger evidence base and capability of achieving all these principles, albeit still a challenge after years of conventional farming.

However, some of these principles can be problematic for other types of farms, such as an organic farmer who is likely to tick many boxes but relies on ploughing for weed control. New technologies are emerging, such as robotic electric weed zappers (I promise I didn’t make that up), but this technology still feels quite futuristic and is expensive. Other farmers who might be struggling to know if they can call themselves regenerative are those growing potatoes and horticulture crops. Again, there are zero till approaches being developed, however implementation presents a big risk as the response of the land is unknown, and the investment of machinery required is a jump too big for many.  

Regenerative Dairy farms are another less explored sector, likely due to the complexity of dairy farm management, infrastructure investment and markets that can make changes difficult and risky to implement. This could therefore leave a dairy farmer wondering what a regenerative dairy farm system looks like and how exactly this could be achieved.

Delving into the complexity and reality of implementing principles could easily leave farmers confused as to whether they see themselves as regenerative or not. However, the most important overarching principle is to regenerate soil: reinstate the soil’s natural function and resilience. I believe this is really important as it restores a way of farming that has arguably been lost since the World War Two dig for victory that drove a disconnect from natural processes and traditional farming techniques through the introduction of large-scale, high input, high yielding monocultured systems, which at the time served a critical purpose, however the cracks in these systems are becoming increasingly evident in the midst of the climate emergency.  

For a farm to be regenerative, over time when opportunities present themselves as a result of clearer evidence, reduced financial pressure and new markets, principles can be strengthened and new ones introduced. The scope for continual improvement of the soil’s natural function and resilience implies that regenerative farming is a journey not a destination. So, wherever you are on this journey, if you keep soil health at the heart of your farming practice, you are a regenerative farmer!