Regenerative agriculture is the latest buzz word. I am always sceptical about branding as the most important factor is the farmer them self and their attitude towards their business and the environment, not a label. There are plenty of farms busily getting on with life doing great things without chasing around completing audits and paperwork.

Listening to Farming Today This Week and the interview with Henry Dimbleby the chair of the National Food Strategy, looking at how we produce and consume food, reminded me of his presentation at the Oxford Real Farming Conference at the start of the year and the whole reason I do what I do. His interest on the need for diversity and problems with the idea of optimising the food system only for efficiency as being problematic struck a chord with me. His suggestion that we are complacent about the risk we face such as from the Climate (arguably the most significant risk) become clear when we look at the rapid impacts of CV19. He asks a key question “What forms of diversity are most important and what are we prepared to pay for?” The Amazon analogy that if we were able to source everything through one shop that may be the cheapest but it is also dangerous and risky, sums up a lot.

The ecological crisis also has an impact on our ability to derive services from our environment and runs in parallel to the responses need to the climate crisis.

CV19 has hastened many changes that were required or inevitable and shown that in an emergency major shifts can be made rapidly in: policy, ways of working and lifestyle. The costs of these are significant and will be paying for them many years and the costs are not bourn evenly across society in terms of financial, health and psychological impacts and highlights the need for action to prevent decisions having to be made so rapidly.

The existential threat of closed borders due to crop failures as a result of climate change and countries willingness to take such action in a time of crisis is suddenly more imaginable as we are currently seeing. This means that we require a more resilient food system. Often the focus is on production efficiency in the form of maximising yield per unit of input and the ideas of land sparing and having land for production and land for nature. I think the reality is farm more complex and importantly interesting.

Both the work of the National Food Strategy and the RSA’s Food and Farming Commission set out options for the future. Food security is as much about: equitability and access to food, consumption choices and waste as it is all out production. This is where a regenerative approach has a role.


Balance. The systems that we use manage the land are one of the key determining factors alongside external impacts such as climate, land management in the surrounding landscape and in the case of migratory species in distant countries. The environment then will reach a balance this can be seen immediately on some species and habitats but equally the impact can take decades to be fully understood. Hence why although some species and habitats are relatively stable we are still seeing an overall decline in biodiversity as species continue to eke out an existence in sub-optimal habitats with breeding success rates of lower than required to sustain their populations.

Land use and land capability is key to providing sufficient healthy affordable and diverse foods. Importing productivity onto soils or local climatic conditions that are not suitable for levels of production that can only be achieve by importing it can create financial pressures for the business or risks to the environment. Profitability is key not productivity.

Social and community. Although not the only social service and it will not solve all our challenges recreating our market towns structure by supporting opportunities for market gardening vegetable production can be a profitable and highly productive model as shown by a number of successful businesses around the country. Locating this type of production in close proximity to towns where they can provide access to local communities and engage them in food can only be a good thing. A recent report by the Food Foundation showed that veg box says had increased by 111% in the first six weeks of the CV19 lockdown, similar interest in meat box schemes has been reported.

Species and habitats. The habitats and species that we value are generally remnants of previous more widespread and abundant features. They also often remain on the more vulnerable sites. Species rich grasslands for me often reflect this. They often remain on steep exposed slopes which are highly vulnerable to drought and therefore can provide very little resource during the peak of even an average summer for many invertebrates. Existing agri-environment schemes show the value of pollen and nectar sources within the wider landscape.

The Environmental Land Management scheme (ELM) currently being developed and due for launch in 2024 is being citied as the route for delivery of this. But there is so much that can be done now in preparation for this transition and the business case already exists in many cases.