Written by Anne Chapman, a director of Green House Think Tank
In the past 70 years agriculture has changed beyond recognition, including here in North Lancashire and Cumbria. Pressure to increase output and produce cheap food has resulted in larger, more simplified and more specialised agricultural enterprises that use bigger machines, more fertilisers, pesticides, veterinary medication and faster growing but less resilient varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Agricultural communities have been decimated by these changes: across our region and nationwide, farms have gone out of business and jobs have been lost. Agriculture has also become a major source of pollution and a significant contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss. Changes are needed to provide a sustainable future for UK farmers, as well as to tackle the climate and ecological crises. The best chance of achieving this is, I suggest, through promotion of regenerative agriculture on better quality land and ‘farming for nature’ on less fertile land.
Whereas industrial agriculture has focussed on maximising yields of particular crops, or growth rates of livestock, regenerative agriculture focuses on improving the health of the soil by stopping or reducing ploughing, growing cover crops, cutting down on inputs of synthetic chemicals and increasing diversity – of plant and animal species and of enterprises on the farm. Regenerative agriculture – of which we have some great examples in our region – can make farming more profitable, through reducing input costs and producing more different things from the same land. A diversity of enterprises on a farm can provide more varied, interesting and less seasonal work. While producing high quality food, regenerative agriculture can also increase soil carbon, reduce flooding, and increase biodiversity.
In some situations, maintenance or restoration of particular habitats or of natural processes are the main aim of farming activities; food is the by-product. An example is the Morecambe Bay Conservation Grazing Company based in Silverdale which has over 100 native breed cattle on various sites. Grazing by these cattle maintains biodiverse grasslands and woodland habitats.
You can read more about regenerative agriculture and farming for nature in Anne Chapman’s report, A Just Transition in Agriculture, published by the Green European Foundation with the support of Green House Think Tank and the financial support of the European Parliament to the Green European Foundation. The report is free to download from www.greenhousethinktank.org.
Image: Cath Grayson (of Morecambe Bay Conservation Grazing Company) treating their bull to an apple Photo Forgebank Films