Hi, I’m Angus Chalmers, the founder and Managing Director of RDP, a marketing company specialising in agribusiness and animal health. In this month’s instalment of The Inside Track, I’m going to be talking about some of the illuminating discussions that took place at the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month, particularly around regenerative agriculture.
Attending the conference was a great way to start the year and the chairman, Will Evans, did a great job of bringing everything together. After the lull between Christmas and New Year, I enjoyed being in inspiring surroundings at Oxford University, listening to 500 people with views and opinions on things that are happening in the industry which challenged my own. It’s good to step out of the day-to-day sometimes and really consider those bigger issues in our industry and how they are being tackled.
‘The Power of Diversity’-This Year’s Conference Theme
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘The Power of Diversity.’ Considering the enormous challenges that are facing the farming sector, I did wonder about its relevance. But actually, it is hugely relevant. When you are trying to find workable and innovative solutions to problems, people are the key to making things work. The conference did address all the big issues, but it did so in the context of people.
It took the opportunity to demonstrate how people from different backgrounds with different approaches can bring the dynamism that’s needed to drive change and address issues. As a leader I’ve always known that having a business full of people who look and think like I do is not healthy. Listening to the different voices at the conference and their different experiences really brought that to life. I think it’s a challenge for the ag sector and for business owners to explore how they can encourage diversity and help it drive more robust businesses.
Positive Developments in Regenerative Agriculture
Amid the challenges and changes facing the ag sector, there was much evidence of commercial businesses driving change. Over the past decade, the WWF has been incredibly engaged in mainstream agriculture. At their fringe meeting, the organisation launched a roadmap for financing a regenerative agricultural transition. This has been driven by legislation that requires businesses to report on the climate impact of their activity and comes into force in 2027. So, for example, banks are going to have to demonstrate that their financing decisions have led to positive impacts on climate change.
Farming businesses therefore that want to borrow money would need to have climate-related policies in place to demonstrate the positive impact of their investments.
Another sustainable initiative that struck me was the carbon inset scheme that Cranswick, a pig production business, has put in place. Cranswick has 400 contract pig producers and growers, that, as part of the inset scheme, are awarded additional payments to produce against a set of sustainable specifications. This payment has been designed to work alongside those businesses’ SFI and countryside stewardship activities.
Businesses like Cranswick have invested significant time and energy in understanding the transition and developing schemes that are right for their business and their supply chain.
The grain and oilseed trader ADM was also presenting their scheme to reward farmers for adopting regen practices. It really feels like the supply chain is being galvanised and that momentum is only going to increase.
Regenerative Ag Must Be Evidence-Based and Measurable
One of the issues that also caught my attention was the perception that carbon and regenerative agriculture has no accepted common metrics. I recently read an article by Dr Julian Little, writing in the Genetics Literacy Project who talked about how without measurable metrics, regenerative agriculture is ‘little more than a data-less claim and a form of greenwashing.’
He argued that there needs to be units to measure, which are backed by science to create a rigorous and consistent methodology which can be accepted across supply chains and borders. Without rigour, regenerative agriculture runs the risk of being accused of greenwashing – no matter how unfair this position would seem to be.
From a farmer’s perspective, I believe a more evidence-based approach is better for them too. At the moment, there are 60+ ways to measure carbon on farms. Farmers have a business to run and crops and livestock to produce, they don’t have time to indulge in theories and endless noise and discussion. They just want to know what to do. They want to know what to respond to and how best to respond, to drive the business in the right direction.
Having a blueprint for regenerative agriculture is perhaps impossible, given that there are so many moving parts. However, continued research and its clear communication can help farmers understand how they can adapt and what they should adopt to achieve the best outcomes to deliver a robust, sustainable farm business.