Farming Diary by Helen Keep, senior farm conservation officer, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority:
I certainly think that it’s part of the food production toolbox and may play a bigger part in the future of farming than originally thought. There are some truly inspiring farmers out there who are pushing ahead, successfully achieving this holy grail, two of whom are based in Cumbria.
I recently listened to the experiences of the Rennisons, who farm at Renwick, and Jimmy Stobart and his family, who farm near Penrith. Both have been inspired by other farmers from the UK and abroad and both started on their regenerative journeys with rotational or paddock-grazing systems. This approach has proved to be a lightbulb moment for both farmers. Jimmy Stobart explained to the Lunesdale farmer group in February how this system achieved 11.5 tonnes of dry matter per hectare using just 30kg/ha of nitrogen fertiliser.
The science of grass growth was key to this. The intensively grazed periods, followed by a 40 to 50-day rest period, stimulated the grass to grow more, set down deeper roots and access a wider source of soil nutrients, in turn improving the soil health. Careful management of livestock type and number has led them to alter the ratio of sheep to cattle on the farm, which in turn has led to the development of other enterprises – chickens, pigs and agroforestry. Hedgerows and woodlands have been planted. All are playing their part in the regenerative system.
Crucially, this approach and the diversity of enterprises has made the farm more viable and sustainable. Not only is there a keen eye on livestock and soil health, grass growth and the environment, but also on the farm accounts. Loss-making is not tolerated – each enterprise has to be viable to ensure the long-term profitability of the farm. The Rennisons’ and the Stobarts’ successful moves away from conventional agriculture have been a learning experience and their attention to detail has ensured the future of their farm businesses. I for one have been inspired and encouraged by what I’ve heard.