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.