This year’s inaugural Down to Earth Event in Shropshire highlighted livestock farmers’ thirst for knowledge for regenerative farming. RABDF Managing Director Matt Knight discusses the event and plans for next year.
Down to Earth was born out of a demand by farmers, the government, milk processors, and consumers to produce dairy products sustainably. The event provided a platform where the livestock industry could come together and see regenerative farming in action and hear from experts about the practical ways to implement it on their farms.
We knew there was a demand for this. Still, we never expected almost 2,000 farmers and industry representatives to descend on Tim Downes’ organic dairy farm in Shropshire in July for the first event.
Regenerative Farming is a buzzword of the moment. You can’t turn on the radio or TV without seeing it mentioned somewhere. It even appeared on billboards at Coldplay’s World Tour, highlighting the demand for such change.
Taking the regenerative farming approach
But the question is, how much change is required by farmers to take a regenerative approach? And is it a word that will die out?
I believe regenerative farming isn’t something that is going away any time soon. The reality is most farmers are probably already doing things on their farms that fall into the regenerative category.
Whether composting their manure, soil testing and directing the correct nutrients and management to their land, or grazing livestock in a way that benefits the mixed grass species they are growing- that could all be branded under the regenerative farming hat.
What is interesting is how it all ties together. Perhaps a better name for it should be ‘circular farming’- changing one thing on your farm can influence another.
This year’s Down to Earth farmer, Tim Downes, said regenerative farming for him was all part of becoming more resilient. He said it captured the farm’s energy, helped maintain profits, and created a better environment for cows and staff.
He focuses on many regenerative farming elements such as water management, agroforestry, using bugs on the farm, and protecting and managing soil health, all of which are interlinked.
The buzz from this year’s event was fantastic, and as such, next year, we will be hosting two Down to Earth events- one in the North and one in the South. Both farms, however, couldn’t be more different. It will give people a flavour of how individual the regenerative farming journey is.
Down to Earth 2023
In Cumbria, our 2023 host farmer is Mark and Jenny Lee, Park House Farm, Torpenhow. They run an organic unit with 175 milking crossbred cows, with 50% of their milk going into their own cheese-making business and the rest sold to First Milk. They aim to achieve their milk’s true value, proofing their farm for the future.
They are certified 100% pasture fed by Pasture for Life and mob-graze their cattle on a 30-40 day rotation using 2.5km of grazing tracks.
They also have areas of silvopasture for grazing and have incorporated 80 pigs into the rotation, which work in poorly performing fields to help improve them. Before bird flu restrictions, 1,800-2,000 free-range broiler chickens were also reared a year, helping improve the pasture through their organic muck.
Our southern host farmer, Neil Baker, couldn’t be more contrasting. He runs a high input, high output indoor herd of 1,800 predominately Holstein cows, which are milked three times a day and produce 55,000l of milk a day. He also has sheep on keep and farms 3,200 acres of owned, rented and contract-farmed land.
He is one of Arla’s regenerative pilot farms and says for him, regenerative farming encompasses much more than simply focussing on the soil. Whilst he admits soils are a big area, he prefers the use of the word ‘circular farming’ over the regenerative farming phrase.
As part of the pilot project, he will be looking to grow maize without any chemical inputs, as well as understanding the economic side by calculating carbon emissions from ‘ghost acres’.
Neil uses digestate from the AD plant on his land on the crops he grows, including wheat, barley, peas and grass. He has started establishing important pollinator corridors, which also provide a barrier for wildlife.
Next year’s Down to Earth events are taking place on 6th July in the North and 21st June in the South. Both events are guaranteed to be interesting, and informative and provide much learning about the regenerative/ circular farming journey. Keep posted for more information at projectdowntoearth.com