East Anglian Farmers ‘Adopting Regenerative Approach’ To Farming
The east of England is the driest part of the country, with water resources coming under increasing amounts of pressure from climate change and population growth, so much so in fact that the Environment Agency has now classified the region as an area facing serious water stress.
This means that, under the Water Industry Prescribed Conditions regulations, water companies have to consider compulsory metering, alongside other options when putting their water resource management plans together.
Serious water stress is identified where current household demand for water is a high proportion of current effective rainfall available, or where future household demand is likely to be a high proportion of effective rainfall.
The east of England is becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate change, with predictions now suggesting that the region will see lower rainfall in summer and increased evaporation, which in turn will reduce groundwater recharge.
Additionally, more frequent intense downpours are expected in the future, which could impact water quality through increased nitrate and pesticide runoff from agricultural land.
Action is being taken, however, to work more harmoniously with the land. For example, farmers and land managers in the region are now participating in a new trading community called Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) through which like-minded businesses can work together to protect the environment.
Funding has been provided to the tune of £980,000 to help improve the local landscape during the crop cycle 2021/2022, with investments coming from Anglian Water, Nestle, Nestle Purina Petcare and Nestle Cereal Partners.
Those involved are being encouraged to introduce measures that are more regenerative in their approach, delivering benefits including improved water quality and availability, soil regeneration, carbon emission reduction, flooding and soil erosion prevention, improved carbon capture and enhanced biodiversity.
The first project to be carried out will cover 4,335 hectares of land, with measures including cover crops to protect water quality and ensure the soil isn’t left bare and vulnerable to erosion during the winter months.
Other plans include reduced cultivation to boost soil health, crop rotation to improve soil structure and reduce reliance on synthetic fertilisers and hedge planting to improve biodiversity and tackle habitat loss.
Chris Gerrard, Anglian Water’s natural catchment and biodiversity manager, said: “The LENs project allows us to work in collaboration with landowners and other sectors to protect the environment and improve water quality. It is essential to work together to solve big challenges like this for the future.
“The LENs programme compliments and embeds itself into Anglian Water’s purpose to protect the environment and our Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP).
“Our WINEP totals more than £800 million of work which is specifically targeted at protecting the environment and improving river water quality, it is the largest WINEP plan of any water company, with double the number of commitments made and delivered in the previous five-year period.”
Spotlight on: Regenerative agriculture
Regenerative farming refers to practices and techniques that can help tackle climate change by restoring degraded biodiversity and rebuilding soil, which in turn improves the water cycle and carbon drawdown, with CO2 captured from the atmosphere and locked away for centuries in soil, plants, oceans, rocks and so on.
Engaging in practices that help increase soil organic matter improves soil biota diversity and health, as well as increasing biodiversity above and below the ground and increasing water-holding capacity, Regeneration International explains.
A growing body of research now exists that reveals how damaging tillage can be to soil, as can the use of agricultural chemicals, carbon mining and salt-based fertilisers. Tillage breaks up soil aggregation and fungal communities and is, in fact, one of the most degrading practices in farming, leading to greater carbon loss and soil erosion.
But no-till or minimum tillage practices, alongside other techniques, could enhance soil aggregation, carbon sequestration and water infiltration and retention.
The application of cover crops, compost, animal manure and crop rotations can also help increase soil fertility in regenerative systems. These work to restore the soil microbiome, which can be imbalanced by the use of artificial and synthetic fertilisers.
Properly managed grazing practices can also be used to benefit both the land and human health, stimulating plant growth, increasing soil fertility, plant and insect biodiversity, increasing soil carbon deposits and increasing soil carbon sequestration.
In contrast, confined animal feeding systems can lead to unhealthy monoculture production, increased water pollution, methane emissions, antibiotic use and resistance and low nutrient density forage. This, in turn, leads to broken food production systems.
Soil scientists are now saying that if current rates of soil destruction continue as they are, within 50 years we’ll see a qualitatively degraded food supply, diminished nutrition, a loss of important trace minerals and insufficient arable topsoil to feed global populations.
“Without protecting and regenerating the soil on our 4 billion acres of cultivated farmland, 8 billion acres of pastureland, and 10 billion acres of forest land, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below 2 degrees C, or halt the loss of biodiversity,” Regeneration International observes.
But regenerative practices could hold the answer, actively improving the land using technologies that are able to revitalise the natural environment, ensuring the production of high quality and nutrient-dense food.
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