Regenerative Farming - Have we come full circle?

Spring 2022

Julian Gold, Farm Manager, East Hendred

I grew up on a small mixed farm in Warwickshire and was heavily involved from around the age of 10, milking cows before and after school, and working most evenings and weekends as required.

Looking back, it was a massive time of change (mid-seventies) when ‘industrial agriculture’ was just starting to really take hold. When I started working on the farm in earnest, we were a traditional mixed farm operating a system that was virtually organic.

I went to Agricultural college in the mid-eighties, which further reinforced the industrial methods of farming. After this, I worked as a manager on a number of farms before taking on the role of Farm Manager on the Hendred Estate in 1992.

The estate had not fully embraced the industrial farming methods and I inherited a system which was mixed arable and livestock, had a history of low pesticide usage, and a focus on habitat creation with large areas of shelterbelts and hedges planted by the estate owner in the seventies and eighties.

With my keen, production-orientated hat on, I promptly raised the intensity of the farming and increased our usage of chemical and fertiliser inputs to raise yields and profitability. So far so good, but fast forward a few years to the noughties and beyond and it was becoming apparent that this intensive, industrial way of farming was unsustainable on many levels.

In particular, it became obvious that nature was constantly snapping at the heels of our chemically reliant system, and that weeds, pests and disease were continually developing resistance to the pesticides we used. We also began to notice that biodiversity on the Estate was suffering. Over the 30 years I have been Farm Manager, there has been a noticeable drop in numbers of hares, owls and lapwings, in particular.

Our current farming system can be characterised as ‘Regenerative Agriculture’; not organic, but trying to produce food profitably and sustainably, while minimising our negative effects on the natural ecosystems we are working in. We are achieving this by:

  • Ensuring that soils are constantly covered with growing plants. 
  • Operating a scratch tillage/direct drilling system, rather than ploughing and cultivating. 
  • Not spraying insecticides (unless a catastrophic pest situation arises). 
  • Endeavouring to reduce our reliance on fungicides by careful selection of resistant crop
  • Trying to reduce our use of environmentally damaging Nitrogen fertiliser. 
  • Having a programme of tree and hedge planting. 
  • Starting to plant in-field wildflower strips in some large fields.
    Hopefully, we will soon start to see the benefits of our more environmentally friendly farming system, but it takes time for nature to recover, so the effects may not be obvious for a few more years.
    Julian Gold, Farm Manager, East Hendred 

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