Regenerative Agriculture in Cornwall with Farm Net Zero

A network of Cornish farmers are finding ways to weather the recent extreme heat.

Farmers in East Cornwall are using regenerative practices to create more climate-resilient farms.

Adaptable agricultural systems will be even more vital in the future, as temperatures are expected to rise as the climate crisis deepens.

This summer the UK hit a record high of 40C, with parts of Cornwall recording highs of 36C, leading to the earliest harvest since 1976 for many.

A large majority of UK farmers fail to adapt to extreme weather conditions, such as prolonged dry spells and heavy rains, according to a recent study by the University of Exeter.

Heat and droughts can impact crop and grass growth, harming winter yields and animal feed, while heavy rains can lead to erosion and winter runoff.

Farm Net Zero is a National Lottery funded project operating in East Cornwall.

Anthony Ellis is one of Farm Net Zero’s Monitor Farmers. He learned to cope with sweltering temperatures working in South Australia for four years.

He brought his expertise from arable and mixed farms across the hemisphere – where rainfall was sometimes as low as 350-500mm a year – to his family’s farm in East Cornwall.

“We try to market our lamb as much as possible, all 100% grass fed and carbon positive. But if these more extreme events are going to become more common, a more resilient and adaptable system is going to be important,” Anthony said.

On his 200-acre farm, sheep find shade under solar panels, hedgerows and trees in sunnier conditions.

Livestock are moved faster around the rotation than normal, to ensure the grass is not overgrazed so it can retain root mass and recover faster.

When crowd or paddocks graze, farmers can adapt to changing conditions and have a fallback position.

Anthony even takes advantage of the extra summer sunshine. He said: “We have 35 acres of solar panels on the farm and manage a small, expanding herd of New Zealand Romneys under them for much of the year. This is in addition to permanent pastures, grass meadows and various cover crops on our arable land.”

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Farm Net Zero is a partnership between the Rural Business School at Duchy College, Farm Carbon Toolkit, Westcountry Rivers Trust, Innovative Farmers and Innovation for Agriculture, with activities such as soil sampling and carbon footprinting at 40 Monitor farms.

Alex Bebbington, Project Officer at the Rural Business School at Duchy College, said: “Climate change is bringing more extreme weather conditions, with farmers being on the front lines of coping with these extremes. Farm Net Zero works with Cornish farmers to reduce carbon emissions and increase sequestration. Many agricultural practices that will help farmers achieve net zero also improve their resilience to climate change.

“Monitor Farmers like Anthony strive to increase the carbon content of their soil through rotational grazing, cover cropping and the introduction of livestock to arable land. Increasing soil carbon eliminates no only carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but can make soil more resistant to extreme weather conditions by improving soil structure, with more spongy soil better able to hold water and nutrients.

“Practices such as rotational grazing ensure that plants are not overgrazed, which means there are more leaves and roots to allow faster regrowth after grazing.”