Organic Farming : Organic always means… No artificial pesticides or fertilisers. Farming in a way that produces food without the use of artificial chemicals. To achieve this organic farmers care for the soil and work with nature to nourish the crops they grow. The compromise of this way of farming is yield which is often significantly lower than a conventional farming system and price point as this is a more costly way to farm.
Regenerative Farming : Regenerative farming does not have one agreed definition it is more a set of principles. On our farm we use 4 principles to govern the way we farm. We minimise soil disturbance, maximise soil cover, reduce / replace artificial inputs and maximise areas for nature. This means we farm in partnership with nature increasing the health of our soils to grow healthy crops and feed healthy people.
The compromise with regenerative farming is the use of a limited amount of artificial inputs. However it does mean we can produce food at a lower cost than any other farming system.
To discuss this topic further we need to take a step back and think through the biggest challenges when growing food.
Diseases / pests damaging the crop : In an organic system they of course have no use of chemicals and therefore have to use wide crop rotations and natural disease and pest management. In a regenerative farming system we do exactly the same. On our farm we have not used insecticides for 8 + years and are learning how to lower use natural disease control better. I think in this area focusing on soil health and growing healthy plants can solve this issue. In summary there is no issue with this section this can be managed with high yields in a low or no chemical system.
Crop nutrition / fertiliser : Definitely no problem, we can use the huge range of organic fertilisers available as well as different crops to solve this one.
Competition from other plants (weeds I don't really like this term) : This is the tricky one. To grow a successful amount of food we need to be able to control that not many other plants except the target crop grow. To control weeds there really are only currently 2 options available one being significant amounts of soil disturbance the second being chemical usage. An organic farmer chooses soil disturbance a regenerative farmer often chooses some chemical usage. Both are compromised slightly as the organic farmer has much higher costs and can be destroying soil structure the regenerative farmer is using some chemicals.
The Holy Grail:
Organic and no soil disturbance - It is absolutely possible (in theory) there are several farmers across the UK experimenting with this. The tricky part is to do it at scale it is of course very possible on a small scale. But to do it at scale presents several challenges. The most popular theory or concept to make it work is whats called a living under storey. This involves growing a constant layer of plat material often clover because of its nitrogen fixing and low growing qualities. This constant layer of clover should suppress weeds from growing and allow you to plant your cash crop directly into it. This is very cutting edge stuff and farmers across the country are trying different things.
Our attempt - We have around 30 ha of grass clover mix growing which is being foraged and sent to a dairy farm at the moment. However this autumn we took around 1 acre of it aside and planted winter wheat into it. We have then formed a partnership with Listt.io and invested in a robot which we hope will be able to control the clover in between the rows of wheat. All of this is very experimental and likely to take several years to develop fully. But we have to keep innovating and trailing new methods.
Follow our socials to get an update of how it goes when we get nearer harvest you could be eating a organic, no till loaf of bread very soon ! Fingers Crossed!!!