I remember taking a phone call in the back of a black cab in London from a founder member of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) about ten years ago. He was suggesting I take out the word ‘regenerative’ from a press release I had written – because no-one understood what it meant. How times have changed.
Regenerative – while still a tricky word to get the tongue around, has certainly taken off, capturing the imaginations of farmers, environmentalists, commentators and policy-makers alike, rather more than terms like ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability.’
LEAF farmer and opinion writer Ian Piggott summed it up well recently in Farmers Weekly, saying that regenerative farming ‘will lead tomorrow’s policies and direction’. Committing to this way of arable farming for the past six years, Ian has built soil organic matter and biodiversity dramatically. It is not yet perfect – but the direction of travel is positive – he says.
PFLA farmers can now be proud to call themselves regenerative farmers – working to create healthy living soils, which grow healthy nutritious plants, which feed healthy, happy animals that produce high quality, nutrient-dense food for humans.
Pasture plants are integral to this food chain and offer added benefits of providing food and homes for insects, mammals and birds, capturing and slowing heavy rainfall to prevent flooding downstream, providing sustenance in challenging drought conditions, capturing and storing carbon, to name but a few.
Multi-species swards or herbal leys are mixtures of grasses, legumes such as white and red clover and birds foot trefoil, and herbs like plantain, chicory and yarrow. PFLA farmers have been growing these for many years – seeing greater yields, greater liveweight gains, better resilience in flood and drought, more earthworms, better soil structure, less parasitic worm pressure in youngstock, less weeds, less artificial fertiliser use – the list goes on.
How cheering it was to see at the British Grassland Society’s virtual (BGS) 13th Research Conference this week, the science is confirming what the farmers have been seeing for years. Researchers from the University of Reading, Duchy College, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin, have all done trials on multi-species swards which validate what farmers are seeing out in the fields.
The regenerative door, which may have been firmly shut ten years ago – is now most definitely open and welcoming more and more to take part. And a host of grass species – from cocksfoot, meadow fescue, timothy and tall fescue, as well as many different perennial ryegrasses – are at the very centre of this movement.