Friday, 11 November 2011

Regenerative Agriculture & Holistic Grazing Management

What has Regenerative Agriculture got to do with UK pasture based dairy farmers?
I think regenerative agricultural technologies have a lot to offer experienced pasture farmers who understand grazing management principles. I liken it to the best chefs who after having a classical training can go on and create the most amazing dishes. The same with classically trained singers & musicians, once they have mastered their craft they can go on to produce the most imaginative & creative music. So it is with grazing, soil, & water management….first you master the classical training then you use those skills to be creative. In this case it is to create topsoil & to control water & water flows on your farm. 
Regenerative agriculture is an opportunity to move beyond sustainability to become regenerative & to rebuild the biological capital on your farm. During the industrial agricultural revolution food production yields have raised, efficiency of yields has improved but at what cost to the environment & soil in particular soil carbon. Holistic grazing involves mixed pastures with many deep rooting species being grazed at much higher pasture covers. The concept is to feed both the cattle & the soil. 
So Who Are the Movers & Shakers?
In this new approach several American names stand out as leaders….Allan Savory,    Gary Zimmer, Abe Collins & ofcourse the very well known Joel Salatin.
Many YouTube clips give a very good idea of how Joel Salatin’s grazing operates & how he thinks.
Joel has become a writer of many best selling books with intriguing titles like “The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer”. How could you resist a book like that?

However its not really that new…..nothing is, is it? And it’s closer than I ever imagined. A Pasture to Profit Discussion group member on the Cotswolds is a direct descendant of the Scottish landowner Robert H Elliot, 1898, who created & wrote about his system of farming that involved laying down land to grass, using deep rooting pasture species & grazing cattle to rebuild the topsoil, to better use water & to increase the biodiversity.    Robert H Elliot’s book “The Clifton Park System of Farming” sets out his key principles.
In Australia, P A Yeomans during the 1930s developed a system of on farm water flow management & regeneration way before his time with a concept called “Keyline management”
Keyline systems are designed to move water about a farm landscape to get the maximum about of pasture growth. It’s an incredibly clever concept that is amazingly simply but highly effective. The key objective is to control water flow across your farm. The core essence is to enhance the agricultural landscape with trees & pasture being grazed by cattle.
What is central to all of the above agricultural innovators & their systems for enhancing the environment & rebuilding topsoil is that the grazing of pasture with cattle. Many current day environmentalists/climate warming spokespersons quite wrongly think cows & cattle are a problem to the environment NOT the solution.
This is fascinating stuff & quite challenging to much of what is practiced on low input pasture farms…..that’s why you are the most qualified to take up & implement either all of or most of the principles of holistic grazing management. If you are a non believer that’s fine “I’ve never learnt anything from someone who always agrees with me”.
If I have reservations myself it relates to how this thinking can be exploited in high rainfall areas…… it is being most successful in dry or even arid environments. The principles are however very important & universal. Several P2P group members are already experimenting & as with all pioneers (they are the guys with arrows in their backs in case you dont know how to spot them!)  it's not plane sailing but at least they are "having a go Mate!" which is fantastic for all of us. We need to focus on increasing soil carbon.
RegenAG are running courses in the UK with Darren Doherty from Australia & during 2012 there will be holistic grazing management workshops & Joel Salatin is coming over to run a 2 day workshop in either Nov or Dec 2012. You will need to register your interest now for that course.
This will be my last UK based blog for three years as I’m returning to NZ to take up a University post with the new “Centre of Excellence in Farm Business Management ” at Massey University. So the next blog will come from Palmerston North, NZ.
Current UK Pasture Measurements
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
North Wales, AFC 2111, growth 20 still VG grazing conditions
Shropshire, 1850, growth 30, cover increasing
Shropshire, 2000, 45 day round, 40% dried off
Herefordshire, 2150, gr 18, de 20, soil temps 12, Now OAD pulling plug on 22nd Nov.
Herefordshire, 2219, gr 22, de 16, cows in by night, grazed 65% of farm since 1st Oct.
Dorset, AFC 2003, growth 20
Devon, AFC 2400, growth 30
East Sussex Cows in, pasture still growing in mild temps, Could be a good early turnout Jan/Feb in South East.
Cornwall, AFC 2480, gr 36, de 39, Awesome year!!!
Northern Germany, AFC 1925, growth 7, last 10 days grazing its been a very decent year!
My thoughts are with our friends in the Breton Group in France as Odile is going thru a rough patch. Our best wishes are with Alain & Odile, who are amazing people & wonderful friends!


  1. Glenapp’s Scottish Pasture Based Dairying Goes Global!
    We’re having a fantastic time speaking to grazing enthusiasts from across the globe about the strengths and prospects of our industry re. Our vacant position for a Dairy Manager with potential to move to equity shareholder in future. We’re only two years in from conversion from beef and sheep unit with a new Greenfield site including a 70 point parlour and can’t wait to take our dairy unit to new heights. But with 850+ cows to calve and a dedicated team to manage we are looking for an exceptional individual – the hunt is on.

  2. Regenerative technologies are a fantastic idea. Its a great way to bring back productive soil that would otherwise be lost.

  3. Thank you for all of the information you've provided over the years and best of luck in your new post!