Regenerative farming is now well and truly part of the agricultural mainstream, with more interest being shown in regenerative practices across the dairy supply chain. But at a time when many organic dairy producers are already under increasing financial pressure, there’s concern within the sector that this reinvigorated regenerative movement could devalue organic produce and undermine the organic movement.
However, rather than focusing on regenerative farming as ‘the competition’, organic dairy farmers are being encouraged to view this as a big opportunity to reinforce the key principles of organic farming and strengthen the organic brand.
“Organic dairy producers must remember that at the heart of the organic movement there’s the desire to farm in a way that benefits people, nature and climate,” explains ForFarmers UK Organic and Grazing Commercial Manager, Ben Trott. “This is a very similar mindset to those taking a serious, regenerative approach and it’s no surprise that the best organic producers are often farming regeneratively, and vice-versa.
“Even when it comes to the practical farming principles, a lot of organic producers will be doing what their regenerative neighbours are doing and adhering to the five core principles of regenerative farming. Regenerative agriculture is a positive movement, it’s generating lots of interest and the important thing for organic producers is to work out how they can leverage benefits from this.”
One of the main strengths the organic movement has is that it follows a set of clearly defined and legally protected principles. And it’s these that will continue to provide consumers with clarity and confidence when it comes to choosing food produced using environmentally conscious farming practices.
“It’s not about trying to prove organic is ‘better’ than regenerative, but instead showing consumers that as a starting point, currently the most guaranteed way for them to support regenerative principles is to choose organic,” continues Ben. “In the short-to-medium term, the guarantee that certification provides is going to be a significant advantage in the organic sector and will help produce maintain its higher premium in the market.”
Ben is adamant that organic producers need to be more proactive when it comes to self-promotion, in particular telling consumers about the benefits organic practices bring in terms of soil health, nutrition and the environment.
“With regenerative agriculture playing such a prominent role in advertising, social media and the farming press, now is a great time for organic producers to get involved and shout about the good work they’re doing and how this fits into the wider regenerative narrative,” continues Ben. “I would urge any organic dairy producers or processors to get involved in initiatives like the Soil Association’s Organic September, either by signing up to events or posting their own content on social media using the hashtag, #OrganicSeptember.
“As well as reinforcing the regenerative principles at the heart of organic farming, the rise of the regenerative movement is also motivating organic producers to look at their existing farming methods and challenging them to embrace different practices. It’s an exciting time and this provides another opportunity to highlight how organic producers are getting involved.”
However, there’s no denying that the current economic situation for many organic dairy producers is challenging and the rise of regenerative farming could be misinterpreted as a viable alternative to producing milk in the organic sector.
“There’s a wide spread of organic milk prices at the moment, and plenty of speculation as to whether these will increase in the autumn,” continues Ben. “Consumer demand for organic milk is also suppressed during times of inflation and when this is coupled with increasing feed prices and input costs, it’s posing a challenge for many.”
Some farmers might be tempted to exit their organic contract and sign up to one of the ‘regenerative’ milk contracts being promoted by some milk buyers, in the belief that they would gain financially without the commitment to expensive organic feed, and other certification requirements.
“I feel that this would be a big mistake,” concludes Ben. “We must take a long-term view and consider what the financial landscape will look like in 12-18 months’ time. Becoming a certified organic producer takes a lot of time and effort and to throw that away for a short-term gain would be very unfortunate.
“Please remember that the ForFarmers team is always on hand to offer advice and guidance when it comes to budgeting, feed and forage management, which can help mitigate the economic challenges that organic producers are currently facing in the short term.”