Regenerative farming is the future
The future of UK dairying will be regenerative, believes First Milk’s Sustainability Director Mark Brooking.
In recent years, the industry had been ‘under attack’ for numerous reasons, with consumers and retailers demanding new approaches to issues such as grazing, antibiotic use, care of calves and the use of soya and palm oil. Meanwhile, Mark believes that government support going forward would favour more extensive production.
“What is the future going to look like? One thing that’s certain is it’s going to look different,” he says. This may be prompted by legislation or through pressure from the consumer via retailers, but Mark believes the industry will become less intensive.
“Technology offers massive improvements for the future. Genetics of course will also play a part.” Profitability is essential, he says. “You can’t be green if you’re in the red. We need to make sure there is a sustainable business going forward.”
Promoting regenerative techniques at ground level
Regenerative techniques will be important. “From a First Milk point of view, we’ve taken the attitude that we would embrace these changes. Our farmers are already regenerative in many aspects of what they do.” First Milk introduced a regenerative farming bonus from 1 April 2022; farms with a completed Regenerative Farming Plan indicating at least one intervention from each of the five regenerative farming principles, together with base data in full, are eligible for the bonus. Farmers are also required to enter soil analyses for three fields, including soil organic matter.
The regenerative farming principles focus on soil health and include minimising soil disturbance, protecting the soil surface, encouraging plant diversity and maintaining living roots, Mark says. “We’re trying to make sure we treat the soil as the most important asset on the farm. If you have healthy soil, you’ll end up with healthier and more productive plants.”
Livestock is a crucial part of regenerative farming, he says. “It’s difficult to see how it can take place successfully if you don’t integrate livestock. This is a good opportunity for those of us in the dairy, beef and sheep industry to say they really do need us. Get some of those golden hooves on arable soil to make a big difference.”
“With regenerative farming there is no necessary standard, no pass or fail, but you need to think about unintended consequences. It’s more an attitude of mind than a standard,” Mark says. “It’s saying you need to get the same or more, from less.
“We’re the first generation to be really impacted by climate change and the last that can do something about it. We are duty bound to see what we can do. I believe by using a regenerative approach, the UK dairy industry can be part of the climate solution.”
Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time.Future Farming Programme