Regenerative Farming – Guest Blog (Part 1)

Farming: The answer to climate change *and* the 6th Mass Extinction? Published in the Clun Chronicle. Written by Manda Scott.

Climate change: everyone has an opinion on it, few people have an answer.  There’s been a rush recently towards meat-free eating as the panacea for all ills with a Vegan lifestyle being touted as the ultimate answer. 

If you want to be Vegan, you’re more than welcome, but please don’t think it’s going to solve anything.  Yes, the US feedlots are appalling.  Yes, the chlorinated chicken is only the tip of a particularly foul iceberg (wait till you hear what they put into their pigs: Even the Chinese and Russians have banned it) – but the problem with eating all things vegetable, is that unless you’re buying from someone who has seriously committed to biodiversity – that is, maintaining a broad web of different plant and animal types – you’ll be supporting yet more monocultures; fields and fields of carrots, or peas, or potatoes with all other plant, animal and insect life extinguished – which is one of the reasons we’re in the midst of the 6th mass extinction in the first place.

For those not yet waking every morning to the reality of mass extinction, there have been five in the past: moments of monumental change on geological time scales which led to almost-complete eradication of life.  The last was 64 million years ago and saw the dinosaurs wiped out, along with 97% of all life on the planet. In fact, nothing larger than 2.5Kg lived. 

In between the mass extinctions, the background rate of ‘normal’ loss is one species out of every 5,000 per century.  We’re currently running at roughly 100 times that – and it’s growing faster. Nearly half of the 177 mammal species surveyed in a recent study had lost more than 80% of their distribution between 1900 and 2015.  Human activity is destroying the world’s ecosystems, and, like all complex systems, the inter-relationships are finely balanced. We don’t know when we’ll hit the tipping point at which catastrophic collapse will begin, but we know it will happen sometime and all the signs are that we’re getting close.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Regenerative farming is being tried out on farms around the world – including at least two in Shropshire – and it may have at least part of the answer. This kind of agricultural science depends on polycultures rather than monocultures: many more species of plants growing together, the more biodiverse the better, and on no-till farming. The aim is to build soil, to grow the bacteria and fungi in the soil and so increase the diversity in the land – and at the same time, to draw in carbon.  

So farming can be the answer.  Next month, I’ll write more about how this works. Whatever scale you farm on, whether it’s a garden lawn or a thousand acres, you can be part of the solution. It has to be better than what we’re doing now.