Regenerative farming is a concept that was first talked about in the 1980s, but it has become much more commonly discussed in recent years. It encompasses the economic and social aspects of farming, as well as the environmental.
In our thinking, regenerative farming is an agricultural system which has a positive impact on the world we live in whilst producing nutritious food. The key word here is ‘positive’ – we aren’t trying to be ‘less bad’ we want to do good things as well as producing great food.
Having a positive impact
When you farm using regenerative practices, food production complements the local and global environment, and typically this means following farming principles and practices that work to restore and regenerate soils and the wider ecosystem.
Care for our planet
At First Milk we care about our planet – it is our home, and we work with nature every day to produce tasty, wholesome and nutritious dairy food, united by a single commitment – to enrich life every day to secure the future.
For us, regenerative farming is about grazing-based dairy production, where cows have access to pasture and where our farmers follow five regenerative principles.
Regenerative farming principles
At its core, regenerative farming improves soil health, enhancing the water and nutrient cycle as well the soil food web. Healthy soils are nutrient-dense resulting in nutrient-dense crops, with better yields and reduced erosion and runoff, leading to improved water quality on and off the farm. The enhanced food web increases biodiversity above and below ground, helping to restore the significant loss of biodiversity we have seen in recent decades.
All of this activity we create in the soil ultimately means we increase organic matter. This also means we are moving carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it into the soil. Quite literally, regenerative farming is nourishing the earth whilst also producing food to nourish us.
Working with nature
In general, our farmer members farm in a way that is less intense, producing high quality milk by working with nature with a commitment to grazing cows. In essence, many were already farming in line with regenerative principles, and we sought to develop this further.
In 2021, we started our Regenerative Farming Programme, and our farmers committed to field-level regenerative farming actions. To incentivise this, we introduced a 0.5ppl regenerative farming bonus from April 1, 2022.
Regenerative Farming Plans
More than 90 per cent of members submitted Regenerative Farming Plans in year one, representing more than 96 per cent of our milk volume. These farms committed to almost 131,000 individual field-level regenerative interventions across more than 78,000 hectares of land.
We literally have hundreds of farmers in Scotland England and Wales adapting their farming practices to regenerate the earth every day.
Developing our understanding
We use science and technology to develop our understanding and approach on methods that can be benefit the planet but also our members.
To help our farmers implement their commitments and share best practice, we work with a range of expert advisors and run an ongoing programme of workshops.
We have also developed a network of Regenerative Pioneer Farms across the country to support farmers with specific on-farm advice, as well as sharing their progress, challenges, and learnings as they work to implement regenerative farming practices.
Productivity & biodiversity
Regenerative agriculture isn’t only about carbon – it also improves biodiversity, enhances nature and leaves the land better than it was before.
Taking this systems-based, holistic look at how land is stewarded, our goal is to support more productive and biodiverse land over time.
Building the soil food web is key here, as without a fully functioning system it does not work to its optimum. At the beginning of the system, healthy and diverse plant growth feeds the soil having captured the energy from the sun. This energy is used by organisms throughout chain generating organic matter at each stage.
Increasing soil organic matter
Organic matter is anything that is alive or was once living, such as a plant root, an earthworm or a microbe. Our regenerative farming programme aims to increase soil organic matter in order to capture CO2 from the atmosphere.
In order to prove this, we have implemented an innovative soil carbon analysis programme delivered by Agricarbon, that will evidence the 100,000t of CO2e per year that we’ve committed to capturing in soil by 2025.