Regenerative Agriculture: Part of our farming future, or just a passing fad?


CLA Midlands Rural Adviser Helen Dale looks back at the Groundswell conference and the boom of regenerative agriculture

Against the backdrop of Brexit uncertainty, the removal of agricultural subsidies and the likely introduction of future payments for public goods, a growing interest in regenerative or conservation agriculture is starting to emerge. This practise isn’t being led by environmentalists or scientists as you might have thought, although they are now starting to take an interest, it is being genuinely led by farmers.

What is regenerative agriculture?

The phrase regenerative or conservation agriculture is increasingly being used among food and farming groups.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for something which is being led from the ground up, it covers a broad range of farming systems and is still emerging with new ideas and thinking, so there is no absolute definition. But broadly regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles, patterns, processes and practices that actively enriches soils, biodiversity, ecosystems and watersheds while producing a variety of ecosystem functions and increased agricultural yields.

Or more simply, put a system of farming which aims to be better for people, better for the planet and better for farm profits!

The start of a Groundswell

The growing appeal and interest in regenerative agriculture can be best demonstrated by the growth of the Groundswell conference. Started by the Cherry brothers in 2015, the conference initially focused on sharing information and techniques around zero-till arable systems.

Groundswell, which took place earlier this summer, has grown considerably in a short period of time and the two-day conference now covers all types of agricultural systems and methods which could fall under the broad banner of regenerative or conservation agriculture.

With over 80 speakers and sessions over the two days, it’s impossible to capture the huge amounts of knowledge, interest, enthusiasm and inspiration in a single blog post. Whether you are interested in protecting or building up soils, livestock production through mob grazing, reintroducing livestock into your arable rotation or planting trees as part of a silvopasture system, there is something for everyone and every farm size.

After two days of listening to, talking to and meeting many inspirational farmers and landowners, what were the key messages I took away?

  • Regenerative agriculture is still clearly focused on food production and profitability for the farmer.
  • This isn’t a conversation about food productivity OR biodiversity. It’s a conversation about sustainable food production and biodiversity.
  • This isn’t just a niche for smallholders who have the ‘time’ and not the financial pressures. It’s being carried out successfully, at different scales, commercially, across the UK.
  • Regenerative agriculture can be a win-win if we can get the balance right and can play a role in combating climate change.
  • Everyone engaged in regenerative agriculture is on a learning curve. Different farms, different challenges and different opportunities. But we can learn from and help each other.

We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the chemistry of agriculture, and have spent too little time on the biology of agriculture. If we are to rebuild our soils and continue farming then biology is key. Farmers and landowners can and are leading the change in our countryside.

What about the role of the CLA and our members?

I met a number of inspiring CLA members over the two days at Groundswell. We know that there are lots of our members across England and Wales who are farming in innovative ways and embracing regenerative agriculture techniques, but what was great was hearing firsthand how they are doing this.

If you are interested in hosting a CLA event, to share what you do and inspire others, then please get in touch with Helen at the Midlands office or your local CLA office and we’ll do what we can to help share information, support events and put farmers in touch.

Groundswell Conference 2020 (24 - 25 June) – SAVE THE DATE

If you have an interest in regenerative agriculture, want to know more about how you might take a fresh look at your own farming systems or if you have experiences of your own to share, then put the date of the 2020 conference in your diary.

I guarantee it will be time well spent.