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What’s the big story?

Yeo Valley Organic’s Tim Mead explains why one of the answers to our climate crisis could be right under our feet
What's the big story?

This article first appeared in our COP27 special issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 11 November 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Rishi Sunak. COP27. Fracking. Immigration. The cost-of-living crisis. Just Stop Oil. The Crown.

Instead of focusing on a big story, I’m going to tell you a little story. It’s a simple story about regeneration.

Regeneration means putting life at the centre of every action and decision. Put simply, it’s all about creating more life.

Why regeneration? Because our planet and young people are telling us the same story. Vital connections between human beings and nature have been severed. Entire systems are broken – our weather, land, industry, energy, food and more.

This disconnection is the root of our climate crisis. It’s also where we discover some of our simplest solutions, and those endeavours that could engage us all to act.

Industrial farming

Addressing and reversing the climate crisis will require connection. It has often been said that the climate crisis is a not a science problem but a human problem; nature never makes mistakes – we do. And because of that, we have many self-inflicted problems to work out.

As a regenerative farmer and organic food producer I’m acutely aware that a third of our total climate impact comes from our food and agricultural systems, as does a majority of human disease. It’s clear our farming system has lost its way.

Over the last 60 years, food production has become increasingly intensive and industrial.

While this has allowed us to grow ever-greater quantities of food, it has also led to farming practices that have degraded soils, reduced biodiversity and contributed to climate change.

Over a third of arable land in England and Wales is seriously degraded. As well as leading to a major loss of carbon to the atmosphere, this reduces the resilience of soils in the face of extreme weather linked to climate change.

Farming and fossil fuels

Industrial agriculture is largely dependent on fossil fuels for the chemical fertilisers that supply nutrients to grow crops.

Dependence on oil has significant implications for global food security either through overall supply limitations or the weaponisation of fossil fuels, as experienced recently in the Ukraine war.

Working with nature

While industrial farming feeds the plants and soils with chemicals, regenerative farming feeds the soil and its microbes – and the soil feeds the plants. It creates more life. It regenerates.

Regenerative organic farming allows a transition to a food and farming system that is resilient, food secure and at the same time has the ability to address our climate and nature challenges.

Core to the regenerative approach to food production is working with nature to manage connections between plants, animals and the landscape, with a strong emphasis on carbon sequestration as an outcome.

There is mounting evidence that ruminants such as cows and sheep raised within regenerative farming systems can sequester sufficient carbon to offset the methane they produce.

By building up the organic matter in soil, they can counter their normal rumen function.

Storing carbon

If Mother Earth represents life on Earth, it certainly seems more than a happy coincidence that one of the answers for our climate crisis could be right under our feet – in the soil and the way we farm.

The Earth’s soils contain 2,500 gigatons of carbon, which is far more than is found in the atmosphere and even more than is stored in all the trees, plants and living things on the planet.

Tree planting to absorb CO2 has come to be the poster child for efforts to fight climate change – yet grassland managed using regenerative principles can sequester up to 3 tonnes per hectare each year. That’s almost as much as is sequestered by a Sitka spruce plantation.

If regenerative farming were implemented on a quarter of the world’s farms and grasslands, they would absorb and retain a much-needed 55 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases over the next 30 years.

Soil health is planet health and human health. It’s as one. As Lady Eve, founder of the Soil Association, wrote: ‘the health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.’ Nothing is truer, still to this day.

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