More than 60 farmers are calling on the government to support the transition to regenerative agriculture in response to soaring fertiliser and fuel costs caused by the Ukraine war.
The group says this shift is essential for ensuring long-term food security for British citizens in an increasingly insecure world and a soaring cost of living crisis.
The Ukraine crisis has highlighted the scale of our dependency in agriculture on imported fertilisers, fuels and animal feeds.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fertiliser prices have rocketed and are now at their “least affordable levels since the 2008 global food crisis”, warns the World Bank (1), threatening to reduce the next harvest and push up food prices even further.
Russia is one of the world’s biggest exporters of three key materials used to make artificial fertilisers – including 15% of Nitrogen, 14% of Phosphorus, and 37% of Potash when combined with Belarus, which is also under trade sanctions (2).
Around 1 million tonnes of nitrogen fertiliser is currently used in UK agriculture , but authors of the recently released Feeding Britain report by the Sustainable Food Trust  say that we could produce enough food to feed ourselves without having to rely on chemical fertilisers, by shifting to regenerative agriculture.
The report, which modelled how a UK-wide shift to regenerative farming would impact food production, found that fruit and vegetable production could double, pulses for human consumption could quadruple, and beef and lamb production could be maintained, while grain for animal feed, and the production of chicken and pork would fall. Under this scenario, the UK would be able to maintain or even improve its current levels of self-sufficiency, providing we ate more healthily as a nation.
“UK farming has for the last 50 years been largely reliant on chemical fertilisers to grow our food, which has meant depending on countries like Russia,” say Peter Greig and Abby Allen of Pipers Farm.
“Clearly this cannot continue as it puts our food security at huge risk. We are facing a series of crises – farmers are being hit by the rising cost of inputs, which is pushing up food prices at a time when everyone also faces an energy crisis linked to Russian supplies.
“We believe that regenerative farming practices, which work with nature to build the soil’s natural fertility, rather than rely on rounds of chemical fertilisers, are the only way out of this.
“This will strengthen our food security, lower farming’s impact on the environment, reduce our contribution to climate change, and improve biodiversity. Healthy food also means healthy people. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Regen farming offers solution to triple threats
Patrick Holden, Founder and CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, adds;
“A transition to regenerative farming practices would help fight climate change, protect nature and our health as well as build national food security.”
A growing number of UK farmers are starting to adopt regenerative practices, while others have been doing it for a long time. As a result, many have reduced or eliminated their use of chemical fertilisers. John Pawsey, of Shimpling Park Farm in Suffolk, is one of them:
“I started farming regeneratively about 22 years ago, building soil fertility through natural processes, including the use of organic farm manures and composts. I haven’t had to use chemical fertilisers on my land for 20 years now, which has saved me hundreds of thousands of pounds and means the food I’m growing is much more secure at times like this.”
What the farmers are calling for
The farmers are calling for the government to support a rapid transition to regenerative farming systems through a five-point-plan:
- A common vision
A coalition of individuals and organisations with a shared vision is needed to support the transition to regenerative agriculture.
- Government action
A bold food strategy is needed, including financial support to enable a large-scale transition to regenerative agriculture; regulation which ensures that farmers are rewarded for public goods outcomes, and carry the costs of damaging practices; and measures to ensure access to high quality foods for lower income groups.
- Green finance
A Green Finance package is needed from banks and the private investment community to offer sheltered loans and preferential interest rates for farmers undergoing the transition to regenerative agriculture.
- Fair prices for farmers
Retailers and food manufacturers need to provide guaranteed prices and forward contracts linked to the true cost of production for farmers transitioning to regenerative agriculture.
- Universal measurement
Agreement is needed on a common set of measures for understanding the sustainability of food production at the farm level, empowering farmers to become stewards of change. These metrics should underpin a universal labelling scheme to enable consumers to make informed choices.
Notes to Editors:
To join the coalition, farmers can sign up via this link: https://forms.office.com/r/rKNVpxchKB
For more on the Feeding Britain report see attached Report Summary, or the full report here: https://sustainablefoodtrust.org/our-work/feeding-britain/
To speak to one of the 60+ farmers or someone from the Sustainable Food Trust:
Bonnie Welch, Head of Projects, Sustainable Food Trust
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact number: 07745938640
About the Sustainable Food Trust
The Sustainable Food Trust is a registered charity that works to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food and farming systems that nourish the health of both people and planet.