What is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative farming or ‘Regen Ag’ has seen a surge in interest and adoption as part of the urgent drive to move to more sustainable farming practices. It supports the production of healthy food while protecting our planet, supporting biodiversity, enhancing soils and reducing emissions.
fieldmargin’s flexibility, which allows it to be used with many different crops and farm layouts, as well as to capture lots of different farm data, combined with its combination of crop and livestock record keeping tools means it is particularly well suited to regenerative farming.
We have seen an increase in our users who have adopted a regenerative approach to their farms. For example, Deepdale Farm in Norfolk used fieldmargin as a key tool for documenting their regenerative transition.
This article explores some of the key regenerative practices and how fieldmargin can be used to help record data for them and measure their impact.
Core Principles of Regenerative Agriculture
- Livestock Integration: Reintroduce grazing animals to the land for ecosystem benefits and nutrient cycling.
- Minimise Soil Disturbance: Protect worms, fungi and beneficial microbes which increase fertility, improve drainage and sequester carbon.
- Protect the Soil Surface: Always keep the soil covered to protect from extreme weather and avoid erosion or runoff.
- Diversity: Encourage a diverse range of species for a thriving ecosystem.
- Maintain Living Roots: Keep active plant root-systems year round to support the soil food web, improve water retention and improve soil health.
Standards are now beginning to be established such as The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform’s Regenerating Together framework. This has the backing of key industry players and cooperatives including McDonald’s, Bayer, McCain, Unilever, PepsiCo, Syngenta and Yara.
Why record and monitor your regenerative agricultural management?
Whether you are just starting with your regenerative transition or you have been following these principles for decades keeping good farm records is key. While sustainable management for the benefit of soil, water and planet is all well and good, many farmers ask: “What about my bottom line?”.
Transitioning to regenerative farming can lead to financial gains through reduced costs (e.g. fertilizer and diesel), naturally combating issues such as pests, more resilient crops and animals and higher income from crop premiums.
By integrating a farm management tool like Fieldmargin, you:
- Have a history of what you have done across your farm: Easily recall when specific practices were adopted and in which fields, especially useful when comparing outcomes or trialling new methods.
- Record the data you need to analyse the impact of new practices: Records such as crop yields or measurements such as soil analysis are stored safely and are readily accessible.
- Can easily evaluate the financial impact: Fieldmargin’s costing tools means that you can track how management practices on your farm, such as reducing fertilizer use due to healthier soils, are impacting your gross margins.
- Have the evidence you need for regenerative premiums: Food processor premiums, carbon credit trading and government subsidy schemes all offer ways that you can attract additional revenue to your farm through regenerative practices. Proper documentation of your regenerative practices is essential to access these benefits.
Regenerative practices and fieldmargin
Also referred to as strip grazing, holistic planned grazing, or tall grass grazing, mob grazing means grazing with a high stock density for a short period of time, followed by a long rest period. It is inspired by the natural grazing patterns of animals such as wild bison. This can be practiced on permanent forage or integrated in cropping systems with short term leys or cover crops.
The livestock to eat the fresh grass, fertilising it as they go. The high stocking density means plants are trampled into the soil, similar to the way prey animals would move in a tight group for safety. These animals would then not return back to the same area for several months or even years. In mob grazing this is mirrored in the long rest periods between grazing the same parcel of land.
A common rule of thumb is
‘Graze a third, trample a third, leave a third’
This means the plants stay healthy so they regrow and continue cycling carbon through their root exudates and means that lots of organic carbon is added to the soil.
Key benefits of mob grazing
- Carbon sequestration: Increases soil organic matter and capacity to hold carbon.
- Better soil health and fertility: Livestock manure and trampled muck enriches soil.
- Animal wellbeing: Mimics natural herd patterns, reducing stress.
- Improved soil structure: Improves soil water retention.
- Effective weed control: Concentrated grazing increases likelihood of eating weeds.
- Pest Reduction: Rotational grazing limits pest build-up.
How fieldmargin can help with Mob Grazing
Fieldmargin’s livestock features are designed for grazing management and are particularly suited to mob grazing systems. For instance you can:
- Track pasture grazing and rest days
- Use Data Monitoring Sites to track soil health and sward height
- Use sub-fields to map blocks or cells of pasture
Min-till and No-till Farming
Min-till and no-till systems are key in regenerative agriculture practices to help minimise soil disturbance and maintain healthy soils. While the goal is the same these systems differ and may be applied on different farms depending on soil type or as part of a transition process.
Min-till: Utilizes shallower cultivations (up to 15cm) without turning the soil over. This system relies on lighter machinery and methods, such as tines or light discs.
No-till: No cultivation machinery used. Direct drills are used to plant crops to eradicate soil disturbance.
Benefits of reduced tillage
- Better soil structure: Less machinery working at shallower depths results in less compaction.
- Increased water holding capacity – Better soil structure increases protection from flooding and drought.
- Reduced soil runoff: Disturbing less of the soil surface reduces runoff which leads to water pollution and harm to aquatic life.
- Protects soil life: Reduced harm to earthworms and other organisms, helping improve soil structure and fertility.
- Better fertility: Increased nutrient retention and nutrient cycling from soil microorganisms reduces need for fertilizers.
- Reduced costs: Fewer passes due to reduced cultivations means less operator time, machinery wear and tear, and diesel use.
- Reduced emissions: Lower diesel use means lower greenhouse gas emissions from establishment.
How fieldmargin can help with No Till
- Record establishment methods and equipment used on your planting/drilling field jobs.
- Use field history and reports to compare performance of fields during reduced tillage transition.
- Record soil health monitoring data.
Ensuring the soil is covered throughout the year, cover crops protect the soil from the impact of the elements. Frost, rain and even sunshine can be detrimental to bare soil; a blanket of cover crops prevents this harm. They also maintain living roots in between crops, supporting soil live during this time.
There is a plethora of cover crops to choose from, as well as catch crops and green manures.
- Cover crops: ‘cover’ soils between the harvest of one crop and establishment of a cash crop. In the UK, for example, a cover crop could be established after harvest to cover the soils over winter before the main, ‘cash’ crop is drilled in springtime.
- Catch crops: ‘catch’ available soil nitrogen and help to prevent the loss of nutrients via runoff and leaching. They will often only grow for a short period, for example from early summer harvest through to autumn planting. They are also often flowering plants that will support pollinators.
- Green manures: capture nutrients and release them into the following crops as well as adding fresh biomass (organic matter) into soils.
Cover crops are wholly chosen based on the benefits they provide and different species aim to improve specific soil health factors. Diversity is key and so it is often key to include a mixture while considering other farm goals like weed control.
- Legumes fix nitrogen into soils, e.g. Clover or vetch.
- Deep rooted crops reduce compaction and soil erosion, e.g. tillage radish.
- Grasses produce green manure and integrates well with livestock systems, e.g. oats.
- Brassicas provide quick establishment of a lot of biomass and are popular for grazing with livestock, e.g. Mustard or rape.
How to use fieldmargin for cover crop records
- You can use sub-fields to easily keep records of fields where a cover and commercial crop are grown in a single season. By layering the fields, you are able to better organise the records you keep for each crop, and improve the accuracy of reports.
- Use notes with photos attached to your fields to show cover crop progress if you are integrating cover crops as part of an environmental or carbon credit programme.
Agroforestry is a holistic approach to land management that promotes productivity and biodiversity by integrating trees with agricultural practices. This can be split into:
Silvo-pastoral: Livestock grazes among the trees, which provide shelter and fodder. In return, the livestock enrich the soils with nutrients from their waste. Trees can also be used as supplemental forage for grazing livestock and some species even have higher levels of condensed tannins which helps with gastrointestinal parasite control. Worms have not developed a resistance to this type of control and therefore the burden of worms in these grazed animals is reduced.
Silvo-arable:Crops are grown in between trees, often in rows just wide enough for tractors to minimise damage to the trees. This is sometimes referred to as alley cropping and makes optimal use of space above and below ground. The trees grow much higher than the crops above ground and their roots grow much deeper into the soils than the crops which thrive in the space between.
- Healthier Soils: Trees enrich soil with organic matter and enhance microbial diversity.
- Increased Yields: Tree-root systems support nutrient availability, boosting crop productivity.
- Pest Control: Trees provide a habitat for wildlife, housing natural predators to common crop pests, reducing need for pesticides.
- Financial Diversification: Multiple crops reduce dependency on a single income source. Nut or fruit trees may be planted as a new revenue stream.
- System Resilience: Biodiversity boosts overall ecosystem productivity and resilience.
- Erosion Control: Tree roots stabilize soil, preventing topsoil loss.
- Water Protection: Trees reduce nutrient runoff, safeguarding aquatic ecosystems.
How fieldmargin can be used with agroforestry:
- Use features or sub-fields to help map out tree planting arrangements.
- Use notes with pictures to record tree planting progress or tree health.
Regenerative farming and soil health
A key outcome of many regenerative farming practices is improved soil health. This translates into more productive, healthier crops and animals, and also increased soil organic matter levels. Enhanced soil carbon sequestration means that not only is farm productivity and margins impacted but it can actively combat climate change by drawing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.
Soil health benefits
- Significant carbon sink: Healthy soils can store large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
- Fertility: Increased nutrient availability and fertility results in healthier, more nutritious plants and lower fertilizer requirements.
- Reduced water runoff and erosion: This reduces pollution of waterways and loss of nutrients from soil via runoff.
- Improved water holding capacity: Better soil structure means more water is held during droughts
- Better soil structure: Reduced compaction means water drains away reducing waterlogging and plant roots can go deeper to access nutrients and produce a strong foundation.
How fieldmargin can be used to monitor soil health
- Make notes in fieldmargin of soil tests – these can be photos and text for visual soil assessments or include pdfs of soil test results.
- Use note locations to plot where soil has been sampled so you can return to the same place when sampling again.
- Add soil information such as type to the field ID/ description.
Getting started with fieldmargin
Whether you are a long-term regenerative farmer or just getting started, it’s easy to get started with fieldmargin to monitor, manage and enhance your regenerative farming practices.
It’s free to register and get started.