A series of research reports and introductory videos highlighting some of the work of our partner organisations.
Food and Farming Futures organised an online webinar on the 24th February 2022, supported by Harper Adams University’s School of Sustainable Food and Farming.
The webinar explored how the application of science could be best delivered to ensure a just agricultural transition in the United Kingdom (UK). This is in response to the Agricultural Act 2020, climate change and the reality of a war in Europe. The webinar included leading authorities from academia, industry and policy (see Appendix for a full list of attendees).
A key outcome of the webinar was the formation of a working group, selected to represent the sector (see Appendix for full membership). The working group is tasked to develop a report to make recommendations to UK policy makers and agricultural leaders on the application of science to realise the potential of the agricultural transition.
Craig Patrick, Precision Decisions
Dr James McCaughern
FAI Farms and McDonald's
Claire Hill 0:08
I'm Claire Hill, Regenerative Agriculture Director at FAI Farms. We've been working with McDonald's for 20 years on agricultural research projects. Our most recent project with McDonald's is looking at Adaptive multi paddock grazing in the UK, which is a regenerative agriculture practice. Regenerative agriculture is something that's coming to the mainstream, it's been practised for a long time, but maybe only in small sections of agriculture. With the pressures that farmers are facing with profitability, flood drought, farm resilience, farmer mental health, animal health challenges, regenerative agriculture looks like it could be a possible solution to some. McDonald's in the states are part of a large project looking at Adaptive multi paddock grazing on multiple farms, and we looked at that project thought it was exciting and wondered if it could work in the UK for McDonald's, UK and Ireland. So we're putting it in practice on a 1500 acre farm over here looking at whether we can get the benefits from a regenerative agriculture system that have been claimed, like healthier soil, better carbon locked down, healthier animals, better daily live weight gain, more grass grown, lower input costs, overall happier and more profitable farmers. That's what we're looking at. The main practical changes that we've implemented are to focus a lot more on our grazing planning, which includes out wintering and bale grazing and also focusing on rest periods rather than residuals of grass. We achieve that we sell grazing, but we've moved our animals into larger groups, and we're moving them on every one or two days, which means we're aiming for about a six month rest period on most of our grazing. In order to help more farmers with their own transition, the project is capturing over 60 different measures around soil health, animal health, farm profitability, environmental benefits, so that we can fully understand what an adaptive multi paddock grazing regenerative system looks like in the UK to help other farmers in UK and Ireland with their transition.
Harriet Wilson 2:02
At McDonald's, we're serving 4 million customers through our restaurants each day, and we rely on over 23,000 British and Irish farmers suppliers with the highest quality food. This makes us one of the largest buyers of British and Irish beef. Due to our extensive grazing based systems, we have one of the greatest opportunities to address climate change and drive positive change in sustainable food production. We're really pleased therefore to be working with FAI farms to fund this research on adaptive multi paddock grazing. What are the aims of this project is to quantify the positive impacts of grass based regenerative feed production and also identified best practice that we can then share with our suppliers and farmers to bring about greater impacts across British and Irish beef industry.
FAI Farms and McDonald's
Silas Hedley-Lawrence 0:00
So one of the main things farmers want to know when they come here and they see what we're doing in our grazing planning is how do we plan our grazing. And the first most important thing to do is actually do a whole grazing plan for the whole year ahead of you, which we actually did last week. So what we do is we think about how many groups of cattle we're going to have. For us, ideally, we'd like to have one or two, but because of our water, we have to have more like four or five. So we have to split our farm to separate blocks, and then plan how they're going to move through the whole farm over those 12 months, to give us an idea on how we can play in recovery periods, what parts of farms, we want to get rested at what times of year, that helps us to figure out how big the groups are gonna be and how many acres we need per group. So the other parts of that question is, how do we plan ourselves sizes, and what we basically do is we figure out the day demand of each group and what's available in the pasture. But what's most important is actually just monitoring that residual, because we want to achieve a specific desired outcome. So that would mean in this growing season, we want to leave at least 50% behind when we've got nice wildflowers, we want to make sure that at least half of those flower heads haven't been nibbled off, so that they can flower and seed and pollinate. That's how we can increase our biodiversity by leaving that much behind as well and making sure there's plenty of nice green vegetative material to photosynthesize and get carbon nice and deep down into the soil. Whereas in the other hand, and we go into the autumn and winter, we don't mind actually grazing a little bit more. And as the grass gets a bit more mature, and brown and decaying, that's a really good time, then start getting animals a little bit tighter. Try and trampling more of that residual, which builds your organic matter levels in the soil. People often want to know how long do you keep animals in one place? Or what do you do and they need to be in a certain place at certain times. So we look at key dates. So it's things like a TB test or someone go on annual leave, we make sure that the cows are where they need to be to make those kinds of periods easier. General rule of thumb for us is in the growing season, we don't leave animals in the same cell for any longer than four days. That's because after four days, the plants grown on day one tend to start regrowing, and that's when they'll then be nibbled off by cattle or sheep that are looking for those more nutritious parts of the pasture. That's when you then start over grazing while staying in the same place for too long. General rule of thumb we try and do a one to two day move, but never more than four days.
FAI Farms and McDonald's
Claire Hill 0:00
One aspect, which causes great debate at the moment is grassland versus trees. Should we just be planting trees everywhere? And the question often gets asked is well, which is best. And I think the key thing to remember, like in everything, it's all about balance and diversity. So the one good thing about grassland is it's providing a food source. And so taking grassland out of production to plant trees isn't necessarily a good thing. But where we've got big areas of open grassland bringing trees in, can be a good thing. There's scientific papers that back both, some would say that trees are better, some would say that grassland is better. But the key thing to remember is that we're producing food from a grassland. And often, when planted trees, particularly in the northern hemisphere, they tend to be timber production only. With the carbon from grassland, it's under the ground rather than above the ground. It's locked in, it's fairly stable, it's fairly secure. And there are a number of different ways in which that carbon gets down into the ground. One is through photosynthesis, and the liquid carbon pathway that takes the carbon underground. The other is with trampled and rotting material, which adds to the organic matter within the soil and lots of carbon down that way. Potentially with trees, that carbon is still above ground in the main and although we don't see it so much in this country, we're starting to see it we see it now is with fires, trees can easily get burned down and then that carbon is in the atmosphere and all that great work has gone away, whereas an active grassland that's been grazed and managed regeneratively. That continuous cycle of carbon back into the soil is ongoing. And when we manage regeneratively and we're trying to aim for deeper roots, we're taking that carbon deeper and deeper into the soil all the time.
FAI Farms and McDonald's