Can We Farm Without Subsidy? Regenerative Agriculture Could Help But We Need To Act NOW.
If you could double your acreage at no extra cost would you do it? As a farmer you have probably got used to the sad fact that making a living from your livestock enterprise without the support of government subsidy is about as likely as a blue faced Leicester ewe thriving outside in winter!
Hopefully the new wave of support packages will allow farmers to survive, especially those willing to adopt a more nature focused approach. But what will the payments involve, and will they provide enough to invest in the farm or save for retirement?
There’s worrying times ahead.
You may have heard of a well known, but under estimated phenomenon called ‘shifting baseline syndrome’
A shifting baseline (also known as sliding baseline) is a type of change to how a system is measured, usually against previous reference points (baselines), which themselves may represent significant changes from an even earlier state of the system.
In other words; we haven’t noticed how much has changed in farming over the last few generations.
We notice that tractors are bigger, and i’m sure you’ve seen a steep hike in your fertiliser and feed costs, but have you noticed how your lands productivity has changed?
Because we’ve compensated for reducing land production with ‘grass in a white bag’ and can finish livestock on high performance feeds, can manage disease with modern medicines and control deficiencies with mineral licks and boluses we haven’t really noticed that our soils are thinner, we’re more prone to drought and flooding and our livestock are less healthy without intervention.
There’s been a silent and sneaky switch from a simple yet profitable farming of sunlight, soil and water to one based entirely on costly products and expensive machinery.
When did it happen, that farmers went from well respected protectors of the UK’s iconic landscape and food suppy to ‘natures enemy number one?’
Farmers have become a ‘scape goat’ for a Nation intoxicated by the excitement of being able to buy cheap food, supported fully by a government who was happy to encourage agriculture down a ‘production at all costs’ approach to accelerate economic growth. People have become so disconnected from the source of their food they haven’t attributed any of the responsibility on themselves or the government production subsidies, instead they blame YOU for reducing nature to an all time low and making them sick with chemical based agriculture.
These people influence policy and the government quite rightly is planning for some BIG changes in the way we manage our land and produce our food.
But once we have come to terms with this injustice of this situation, there’s a lot of hope in this acceptance. The UK’s land has approximately 30 years of fertility left, business is usual is no longer an option anyway.
The really good news is that a tried and tested way of rebuilding soil fertility is emerging out of the dry-lands of the world like Australia, the US and Africa. Regenerative agriculture can quickly build soil, increase productivity and bring back biodiversity to levels well beyond anything even your grandparents can remember.
Happily, regenerative agriculture is EXACTLY what the government is likely to be encouraging you toward anyway; it has the potential to ‘save your bacon.’
In the highlands, Estate records show that some upland areas produced four or five times the livestock that our poorly bracken covered fells and moors can now contribute, and all of this was done without the use of modern medicines, fertilisers, cereal feeds and without a fossil fuelled vehicle in sight. Sadly, over the generations we gradually mined the minerals and we no longer have natures bank account to spend.
But we know that by adopting regenerative techniques we can rebuild soil quickly and keep rebuilding at a high level of production. People are seeing results in less than a year and if we full adopt these practices many have seen a doubling or tripling in the carrying capacity of their holding over time all while improving the ‘natural capital’ of the land to benefit the Nation.
This is a refreshing alternative to the ‘farm less to help nature more’ option currently dominating the conversation. In regenerative agriculture the livestock are required to improve ecosystem function, they’re not simply there despite of it. By mimicking the behaviour of wild herbivores, we are working to recreate a time where massive habitat productivity was driven by herbivore impact.
Think about your annual accounts. If you could increase your finishing livestock by even 50% and reduce your input costs to a third whilst still being eligible for the new wave of nature-based support payments would you be in better shape?
Grab a brew and think about that one.
Change is scary. But simply giving up is not something livestock farmers are well known for. The newest generation of agriculture is going to be a biological one and we have an ideal opportunity to transition is NOW while still supported by the current payment regime.
Wouldn’t it be nice to become valued as the generation who turned farmers back into respectful guardians of our countryside and producers of healthy food for a growing population?
Regenerative agriculture is based on principles and is easy for anyone to grasp. We teach it to illiterate herders in Africa and it shares many age-old farming principles that have been undervalued by the modern complicated and technical method of producing food being heralded as the answer to food security.
I have put together a 1-hour introduction to regenerative farming webinar session for anyone who’s interested in seeing what it’s about. You can watch it from the kitchen table with a laptop, no interaction required and it’s completely anonymous. From there you can decide if it’s something that could work for you and take the next step.
Just click the link here; for the cost of a couple of bags of feed, perhaps you could find regenerative agriculture has the answers.
Thanks for reading and I hope to see you ‘in there’ Caroline