In this blog post, farmer Nikki Yoxall looks at the topic at the heart of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire’s Spring Debate on Monday 6th March. Nikki is one of our panelists for the evening event.
Regenerative agriculture is often considered a hot topic.
The term is much contested and surrounded by claims of greenwashing and corporate co-option, and so I’m very much looking forward to taking part in a lively discussion about the topic at the Future Farmers of Yorkshire’s Spring Supper and Debate on 6th March at Pavilions of Harrogate at the Great Yorkshire Showground.
There is a lot of noise around the term ‘regenerative agriculture’, but essentially it proposes that we farm in a way that is aligned with a set of principles, rather than implementing prescriptive practices, regardless of the context.
Most farmers who subscribe to regenerative agriculture would agree that there are five principles which lead to healthy soil, functioning ecosystems and a reduction in inputs: increase biodiversity, reduce soil disturbance, maintain soil cover, keep living roots in the soil, and integrate grazing animals into the farmed landscape.
I don’t think many people would find fault with these principles and would probably agree that working towards a more sustainable future for UK agriculture is a good thing.
Making regenerative principles work for me
I work as a grazier in Aberdeenshire, collaborating with landowners to help them achieve their goals, using our cattle as the ecological engineers to do this.
These goals generally relate to plant species diversity, habitat creation and carbon sequestration.
Regenerative principles align well with this work and are useful to help inform land management decisions.
Using an adaptive multi-paddock grazing system, we create lots of rest; time when the cattle are not in fields is as important as when they are there.
This can be tricky to manage, but running a year-round grazing operation with no winter housing means planning is the most important thing we can do.
For us, regenerative agriculture is about mindset, planning and taking a goal-oriented approach to business.
‘We can’t just keep doing what we have always done’
The principles of regenerative agriculture that I listed above are deeply embedded in actions taken on the ground, but it is only possible to achieve them when fully engaged in the process.
All farmers work to annual cycles, and being so connected with the seasons is one of the perks of the job.
However, if we continue to do the same things at the same time as we have always done, in a climate that’s changing and in the face of market volatility, it stands to reason that we will come unstuck.
Since the Second World War, we have relied on bought-in solutions to iron out those wrinkles and standardise farming to maintain a steady constant. But that isn’t going to work for much longer.
We see more extreme weather every year. Where I live in North-East Scotland, we have gone from minus 15 degrees Celsius to 9 degrees in the space of just one week this winter.
As our climate, society and ecosystems become more dysfunctional and unpredictable, and the sticking plasters of the green revolution that have kept us more or less on an even keel start to lose their efficacy, we will have to look to shifting our collective mindset to one where we embrace regeneration, restoration and our capacity to adapt.
Wherever we are in our journey, reducing our costs and developing resilient systems that are not only adapted to a changing climate, but help mitigate further warming will become more important.
Being adaptive and willing to try different ways of working, ideally with support from enthusiastic peers, will help us all to enjoy what we do whilst being productive and profitable.
Join the debate about this topic from 7pm on Monday 6th March by registering your free place using the button below.
For more details about the Spring Debate line-up, click here.