RABDF announces the stepping down of its Managing Director Matthew Knight

It is with regret that Matthew Knight has decided to leave RABDF to pursue a new challenge.

Matthew progressed from Event Director to Managing Director, leading the charity through a significant relaunch. Under his guidance and working alongside a dynamic team, Dairy-Tech has emerged as a globally recognised event for dairy innovation, drawing record participation. During COVID-19, RABDF continued to support the dairy industry and provided valuable insights to DEFRA on industry challenges such as milk tipping and the risks of reliance on overseas labour.

Under Matthew’s leadership, the RABDF team was recognised with awards for the Greenhouse Gas Emissions campaign ahead of COP 26 and launched the EN Award-winning Down to Earth event, spotlighting regenerative farming. As Matthew embarks on new ventures, his influence on promoting technological advancements and sustainability within dairy farming is recognised. We want to thank him for his 11 years of dedication to RABDF and the agricultural community.

Commenting on the announcement, Robert Craig, RABDF Chairman added:

“Initially as RABDF Events Director and latterly since 2016 as our Managing Director, Matt’s commitment and leadership will be a huge loss to the association. Speaking for the trustees, we wish Matt every success for the future and his career. With immediate effect I will be stepping in to manage the team at RABDF, assisting with our future activities, including the Gold Cup open day on 22nd May and the Down to Earth event at Grosvenor Farm on 3rd July. RABDF will now take this opportunity to review our future strategy. With plans already well advanced for Dairy Tech 2025 we look forward to welcoming the dairy industry to Stoneleigh Park in February next year.”

For more information please contact:
Robert Craig,
RABDF Chairman,

Calls on government to double farm budget if nature is to have future in UK

The Soil Associations’ Head of Policy, Rob Percival, called on the government to double farm budgets to support regen farming in the UK, as he addressed almost 1,000 visitors at the award-winning regenerative farming event Down to Earth North last week.

During his keynote address at the one-day event in Cumbria, session chair and RABDF Vice Chair Robert Craig asked Mr Percival what his message to the government would be as local Conservative MP Mark Jenkinson was listening in the audience.

“Double the farm budget if you want nature to have any future in the UK. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

Mr Percival added: “We have the mechanics of a new farm payments system in place, we have an enormous growing groundswell of will and appetite among producers to change what they are doing and be more regenerative, but the money is not there, and the money the government is putting into the scheme is inadequate.

“It will drive us in the wrong direction and deepen the nature and climate crisis,” he warned.

Mr Percival explained why he felt regen farming was at the ‘cutting edge of modern agriculture’ and how it was time for farmers to regain power.

“There’s no one correct way of doing regen; it is adaptive, responsive, context matters, and there’s no one template that fits. It’s the outcomes that really matter,” he said.

“It’s a process of experimentation within the water cycles, nutrient cycles, natural pollination, and so on, producing food within the natural landscape while building natural capital. I want this outcome focussed outlook on regen,” Mr Percival explained.

Mr Percival said the view that focuses on the outcomes rather than the practices was helpful as it brought into view the models of land use and the types of farming which are not regenerative, such as grazing cattle in the ashes of the Amazon. “This is not regen; they are focused towards extraction rather than regeneration.”

He blamed large, multinational corporations for driving outcomes not in the best interest of nature or for farmers adding how a ‘a great deal needed to change’.

“Where these outcomes manifest is not the fault of the farmer, but of the supply chain that’s loaded with cheap fossil fuels and drives expansion.

“The consolidation of power in the hands of the corporations is part of the problem we need to address through this groundswell of energy around regen farming.

“We need to put the power back in the hands of farmers and citizens and make sure farmers are paid a fair price for doing nature-friendly stuff on the farm.

“It’s not rocket science, but we do need to address the politics of the system to make it happen,” he concluded.

Farmers share challenges of regen farming switch and what they’d change

Almost 1,000 visitors to the award-winning regenerative farming event Down to Earth North last week (6 July) in Cumbria left the day empowered about regenerative farming after hearing from farmers and experts about how it is possible to implement it on all farming systems.

Regen expert Caroline Grindrod from Wilderculture said the process of regenerative farming was like a fingerprint- individual to every farm. She encouraged farmers to evolve their own systems, considering the environmental, social and economic aspects.

“From an environmental point of view, ask yourself what soil type you have rainfall, biome, forage sustainability and what type of system this farm might suit. From a social element, ask yourself what life you want, your work-life value, and your staff, and consider the most economical model for your farm. Regen is a whole system approach.”

Switch to Regen Like Coming Off Heroin

Mixed farmer Nicola Renision explained how she and her husband Reno started their regen journey due to financial reasons back in 2014. Until then, their farm near Renwick, Cumbria, was production and output -focused.

However, after visiting a farm grazing their stock rotationally and seeing the benefits, their rethinking began.

“Overnight, we pretty much went cold turkey on fertiliser and buying in feed for the sheep and cattle. Admittedly, it was a bit like coming off heroin; we took a three-year dip before coming back up. Looking back, we should have gradually weaned ourselves. However, we don’t look back now.”

The Renison’s changed their livestock and now have a herd of 80 sucklers, selling stores at 18 months, and 200 breeding ewes – alongside a small number of outdoor pigs and, for the last year, laying hens that follow the cows in rotation in their egg mobile. They are rotationally grazing their stock and are strong believers in the huge benefits of grass-fed livestock; to the environment, to health, and to the bottom line.

“The answer is not in a bag or bottle; the answer is genuinely in your head. It’s important to take time away from the farm, learn and absorb. Regen is a continual learning curve, “she added.

Host Farmers Journey

Host farmers Mark and Jenny Lee also shared a similar experience to the Renison’s, having a mindset change almost overnight on how they farmed.

Almost a decade ago, they witnessed first-hand how their cows actively sought and thrived on a more diverse diet.

Mark said, “We sprayed a field with roundup and unbeknown to us, one of the nozzles on the sprayer was blocked. When the cows came to graze, every one headed for the strip of untreated land to graze. It was this very moment we started our journey into organic and committing the land at Park House Farm into regenerative farming.”

So, in 2017 their organic conversion began. They replaced their 400 predominately Holstein Friesian cows with 175 milking crossbred cows, investing time in establishing multi-species swards.

Overnight they stopped using any chemicals, something they admit was a disaster at first.

“Yields crashed and we were 40% down on yield as the soils weren’t ready for it. We had to buy in silage at one point. If we did it again, we would stitch in more clover and wean the soils off fertiliser and allow the herbal leys to grow.

“Stopping and giving land time has been our best success. Nothing changes in six weeks unless you are using chemicals,” said Mark.

“You’ve got to farm the land you’ve got, but you can change the animals you are farming and how you manage the land.”

“We’re no fools and know that the task of regenerative farming is an ongoing commitment, but it’s a commitment we’ve pledged to uphold for the sake of our land, our livestock and all our futures,” he added.

4 top tips on getting started with regen farming

Regenerative farming can work in all farming systems, explained leading agronomist Helen Dent, Kite Consulting, at last week’s (6 July) Down to Earth event in Cumbria.

She explained to visitors the fundamental principles and how they should think of feeding their soil the same way they think of feeding their cows. “In both cases, you are feeding microbes,” she said.

She broke down the principles of regenerative farming into four key areas for farmers to focus on. They were:

  1. Minimise soil disturbance- both chemically and physically

“A lot of soils are not ready for min till,” she explained. “It’s important you move to min till gradually. Look at your soil and find out what needs doing. The start is only doing what is necessary.”

  1. Crop diversity

“The microbiology in the soil wants to eat something different. Different plant roots produce different sugars, and the microbes feeding off those sugars give back nutrients to the roots. The more roots in the soil, the more you support the soil microbiology,” she added.

  1. Keep the soil covered and have a living root all year

Maize is often a plant blamed for contributing to runoff and erosion. Ms Dent explained how it was possible to grow maize without leaving soils bare between rows and cultivations. “Strip tilling can be used to introduce maize, and it can also be under-sown, which helps fit the crop into a regen system. It not only makes fields more resilient, but you can have a ready-made cover crop, leading to less nitrogen leaching and providing either a winter grazing or early spring cut.

“Think of the ground as a solar panel and the green leaves are used to harvest the sunlight into energy,” she added.

  1. Integrate stock

Livestock have an important role ensuring the regeneration of soil vegetative cover and mineral recycling in grassland ecosystems.

How agroforestry is benefiting livestock and the land

Planting trees will help farmers on their journey to net zero whilst benefiting livestock and the environment, visitors to last week’s (6 July) Down to Earth event in Cumbria heard.

Graham Watson from Cumbria Community Woodland explained how many farmers were already integrating agroforestry into their livestock systems through a network of hedges surrounding field margins and trees already established in fields, for example. However, he said more trees could be planted, with government grants available to help support agroforestry.

He said the starting point was to plan the planting and apply for carbon credits. “There are many different ways to incorporate tree planting onto farms. You can implement alley cropping, where trees are planted in lines, allowing tractors to pass through. You can also plant field corners or consider areas of land that are less productive for planting. They can also be planted in fields in higher density planting or singularly depending on the purpose.”

The suggested number to plant will vary depending on a farm’s objectives, with a minimum of 30 trees per ha.

“By planting more trees, you are spreading the pressure of the stock when they are grazing,” he said.

The types of tree species planted will also depend on the farm’s objectives and location. “Oak, willow, ash, birch and crab apple are the main species. However, the Forestry Commissions Ecological Site Classification (ESC) will tell you the best species for your land,” he said.

Trees can provide health and welfare benefits to cattle, offering shade, shelter and feed, with some varieties, such as willow, thought to provide pain relief to livestock.

“They also help to improve water infiltration and slow water runoff,” he added.

Festival Atmosphere Builds as Band, Bar and Camping Opens Ahead of Regen Farming Event

A festival atmosphere is building ahead of the regenerative farming event Down to Earth North in Cumbria next week (6 July), with a band set to take centre stage ahead of the one-day event, along with a pop-up bar and campsite. Acoustic band Burnt Horse made up of farmers, will play laid-back covers from a range of artists on Wednesday 5 July, with food and drink available from ‘The Regen Arms’, a pop-up bar in the farm’s wedding barn.

Visitors can camp from as little as £10 a night at Park House Farm, Torpenhow, Cumbria, before and after the event by booking on Pitchup.com.

Down to Earth has grown in popularity since it was first launched last year, with 1,900 visitors and trade attending Down to Earth South in Somerset last week (21 June). Visitors to Down to Earth North will see first-hand the benefits of regenerative farming at Park House Farm, home to organic farmers Mark and Jenny Lee, with farm walks throughout the day.

On 6 July, there will be a whole suite of talks and practical demonstrations on regenerative farming covering everything from the benefits to what regenerative farming means for different systems, including case studies and practical ways to improve a farm’s sustainability. The day will also host Michelin Star chef Paul Leonard from The Forest Side, where he will showcase the importance of regenerative farming in food quality and the growing demand for food produced in a regen system.

Show Organiser and RABDF Managing Director Matt Knight said: “We were overwhelmed by visitor numbers to our first Down to Earth event of 2023, so we have decided to extend the offering at Down to Earth North by allowing visitors to stop on-site and make a few days of it. “We expect a festival vibe at the event, with acoustic band Burnt Horse lined up to play and an indoor bar serving drink and food.”

Down to Earth North is free for RABDF members, or tickets can be bought for £20 online at www.projectdowntoearth.co.uk or the gate.

More information about speakers, talks and demonstrations can also be found on the website.

To book camping, please visit  https://www.pitchup.com/campsites/England/North_West/Cumbria/Wigton/torpenhow-cheese-festival/#&gid=1&pid=5

Ticket sales launch for RABDF Down to Earth events

Tickets are now on sale for the RABDF’s regenerative Down to Earth events taking place on Wednesday 21 June and Thursday 6 July. Demand for the inaugural event last year has resulted in the rollout of two days this summer.

Arla regenerative pilot farmer, Neil Baker, will host the first day and will look at how high yielding, housed herds can contribute to the bigger ‘regen’ picture. Focus here will look at ethnicity of products, in particular, ethnicity surrounding the food chain and food miles.

Cumbrian organic farmers, Mark and Jenny Lee, from Torpenhow Dairy will discuss all of the regenerative practices they have implemented on their farm. Expect the likes of pasture management, mixed farming and agroforestry.

RABDF managing director, Matthew Knight, says: “Following the huge success of our first Down to Earth last summer we made the decision to organise two events this year.

“By doing this it will allow us to showcase regenerative farming from different angles, and whilst we will be discussing some typically regenerative topics, we will also be looking at areas that come away from the traditional viewpoint associated with these practices.”

Jack Cordery, chief executive, Mole Valley Farmers, one of the events headline sponsors, explains how, as a business committed to UK agriculture and supporting farmers on the journey to net zero, we are pleased to have been part of Down to Earth from the outset.

“These events provide the industry with a platform to share new approaches, see best practice and learn from each other. We must all work together to build our understanding and approach to the principles of regenerative agriculture, collectively responding to the changes in government policy and the pressure for farming systems to become more sustainable whilst reducing their environmental impact.

“UK agriculture has to be the driver for change, finding solutions to the challenges so that we are able to maintain food production and food security but with sustainability increasingly at the forefront of our thinking.”

“Trinity’s mission to enable farming businesses of all types and sizes to embrace and thrive through sustainable farming practice is closely aligned with the ethos of Down to Earth says Anna Woodley, managing director, Trinity Agtech, another headline event sponsor.

“We’re thrilled to be supporting the Down to Earth events and believe for too long livestock farmers have been inaccurately or poorly represented in terms of their sustainability position.”

Tickets are now on sale and available to purchase online at www.projectdowntoearth.co.uk with RABDF members are eligible for free tickets. Further information on both events can also be found on the website. Event enquiries to office@rabdf.co.uk or 02476 639317.