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Transforming UK farming: from a climate problem to a climate solution

UK farms capturing over 50% of all UK GHG emissions by 2030 growing affordable nutrient dense food & fibre at scale on regenerating soils.

Photo of Mark Drewell
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

New Foundation Farms Limited

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Totnes, Devon

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The United Kingdom & the Republic of Ireland (315,159 km2). We will directly transform one farm in every county to impact the whole.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United Kingdom and The Republic of Ireland

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We are of this place and by transforming the future of its farming we can create a future for our families and our communities and be a developed world inspiration for the whole planet.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The people of these small islands of Great Britain have shaped the modern world through their culture, language, innovation and historical ambitions.  We are a dense patchwork of people and land where every square inch has been altered by humans over millennia. We carry a burden of historical responsibility for in many ways being the primary architects of a world which is on a trajectory to ecological and therefore societal  collapse. Perhaps the greatest symbol of this is in our own back yard, in our agriculture. Our farms arelocked in a cycle of degrading soils, increasing rural poverty, mental illness amongst farmers and farm workers, young people leaving the land and no inspirational narrative of the future. We grow crops in abundant rainfall yet since 1850 we have lost 80% of our topsoil and can barely produce 60% of what we eat. This "green and pleasant land" is, under the rolling beauty of its fields and hedgerows, a symbol of the failing world we have created. It does not have to be like this. We can transform the future of how we grow food and fibre to become a lighthouse showing the way to how our food and our fibre should be grown. 

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Inter-related dynamic of declining soil fertility, marginal economics, high fragility (therefore vulnerable to changing climate and extreme weather) combine to create an agricultural system in long term decline. Young people are leaving the land. Old people struggle to make a living. We import 40% of our food. Agro-chemical industrial agriculture worsens this situation every year. Eventually our food systems will (according to our national department of Agriculture) eventually collapse.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

We can farm in a way that produces nutrient-dense, healthy food at low cost on farms that are more profitable and more productive than they now are using industrial chemical methods.

Transforming agriculture to a symbiotic relationship between ecology and economy requires three things:

1.The latest insights from soil science which have changed our understanding of soil from primarily a mechanical system to a biological dynamic

2.Agro-ecological farming and land management tools and techniques

3.A holistic management system which can optimise and measure economic, ecological and social outcomes simultaneously.

These insights form the basis of our creation of a scaled network of Centres for Regenerative Agriculture - a scaled open-source initiative to create a tipping point in farming across our islands. We will demonstrate that ecology and economy are symbiotic, not in conflict. And we will do it at a scale that will inspire others. We will be a catalyst that plays the same role that Californian Venture Capital; did in creating scaled enterprise to make the world belie=ve that renewable energy was a practical alternative to fossil fuels. We will make ourselves strong enough to counter the lobby that we lock us into a dependency on chemicals.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We will eat nutrient dense food grown on regenerating soils. We will be healthier as a result and we will have a  model that shows hoe we can live in harmony with nature.  Biodiversity will increase with many species of plants and animals returning to our lands in abundance. Our rural economies will be thriving. Our farms profitable. Our agriculture will be anti-fragile, able to adapt to the effects of climate change. We will reduce flood risk and the consequences of drought.  Our young people will see farming as a career to aspire to and be part of. We will create a new knowledge economy and meaningful work. We will build knowledge that can inspire ourselves and the wider world.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Transforming UK farming:  

from a climate problem to a climate solution

By 2030 we can halve UK GHG emissions by transforming how we farm - buying us the time we need to deal with other more difficult emission challenges in our economy and accelerate the transition to a net positive future.

Agriculture is responsible for 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions (and up to 25% globally).

We can switch farming from being a major source of carbon emissions to becoming a powerful carbon sink. And we can do it fast.

Capturing carbon is a bi-product of farming in a way which enhances natural processes.

We can produce healthier food at low cost on farms that are at more profitable and more productive than they are using industrial chemical methods.

Transforming agriculture to a symbiotic relationship between ecology and economy requires:

1. The latest insights from soil science which have changed our understanding of soil from primarily a mechanical system to a biological dynamic

2. Agro-ecological farming tools and techniques

3. A holistic management system which can optimise economic and ecological outcomes simultaneously and measure performance in both.

Combining these 3 elements enables a profitable and productive switch from resource intensive chemical-based soil mining, to a knowledge-intensive industry which harnesses natural processes.

This transition can also produce other benefits including:

- Increasing food security by avoiding soil collapse and by making our food systems more resilient to both extreme weather events and changing weather patterns, while increasing the home-grown percentage of what we eat.

- Empowering consumers to buy affordable healthier more nutrient dense food produced on regenerating soils and “change the world through their wallets”

- Avoiding farmland becoming another stranded asset alongside fossil fuels as attitudes to extractive soil mining change

- Creating a new knowledge industry with numerous benefits including spin-off technologies and the ability to export globally

- Regenerating rural economies increasing job opportunities and the attractiveness of farming for the next generation

- Addressing the social crises in farming including mental health, poverty and an aging farmer population

- Reducing flood and drought risk by exponentially improving the ability of the landscape to absorb rainfall absorption

- Increasing the ecosystem’s ability to support bees, other pollinators and predatory insects making food and fibre production even more anti-fragile

-Transforming land ownership by solving the problem of the gap between land values and farming returns

- Benefitting the fiscus by shifting agriculture from being a consumer of subsidies to a growing contributor to the tax base

How will we make this happen?

To accelerate a large-scale transformation at the speed required by the climate emergency we are establishing two key initiatives:

1) Establishing (immediately) a Centre for Regenerative Agriculture as an open source platform for learning and knowledge

2) Launching (within two years) a Scaled Network of Centres mobilising large scale capital to transform the sector.

Changing our agricultural systems at scale is a critical element in addressing the climate emergency. 

New Foundation Farms, January 2020


Appendix 1: The Centre for Regenerative Agriculture

The Centre for Regenerative Agriculture (The Centre) is being established as the UK’s first comprehensive action research hub for the implementation industry-wide full-impact regenerative agriculture. 

Mission: “To make agriculture part of the climate solution by catalysing the scaled transformation of farming to grow affordable, nutrient-dense food and fibre on regenerating soils.”

It has six focus areas:
1.Demonstrating scaled commercial regenerative food and fibre production
Growing food & fibre on regenerating soils on a substantial (+/-300 acre) regenerative farm to demonstrate full impact regenerative agriculture in action.
2.Farmer Training and education
Expanding existing programmes to meet the scale of the challenge. This includes developing and delivering online and in-the-field at all education levels to serve the needs of farmers, researchers, educators, policy makers, wholesalers, supermarkets, value-added manufacturers in food & fibre and other supply chain participants.
3.Research and development
Building a network of collaborating universities and other organisations. An immediate focus is to develop the application of EOV across all agricultural arenas and developing further knowledge technologies and tools to support regenerative practices.
4.Advocacy and outreach
Engage the widest spectrum of society including Policy Makers and Consumers. This will involve both on-line and on-site visitor experiences.
5. Consulting and advisory
Assisting landowners and farmers with expertise and development paths to transform their approaches and downstream supply chains in developing procurement programmes to accelerate the adoption of regenerative systems.
6.Incubation of a scaled network of Centres for Sustainable Agriculture and related enterprises
The Centre is a pilot for a national network of similar facilities. (see Appendix 2 below).

Appendix 2: Building a scaled transformation in the UK

We will move rapidly from the first Centre for Regenerative Agriculture to building a scaled network which will create a tipping point of accelerating change across the sector.  

The vision is one farm in each of the 140 counties that make up the British Isles - 60 000 acres in total.

A scaled network can deliver multiple benefits not achievable through the simple process of incrementally converting existing farm enterprises.

The agricultural sector today is like the energy sector before significant capital was deployed to create clean energy enterprises of sufficient scale to be an effective and visible alternative to traditional fossil fuel companies.

A large new entrant collaborative network producer of nutrient dense affordable food and fibre on regenerating soil will:

a) inspire other producers to convert faster

b) counteract the impact of agro-chemical companies who have a natural interest to slow down a transition

c) create a reliable supplier for downstream players to change procurement policies

d) have the financial muscle to create consumer awareness 

e) provide a significant investment opportunity for large-scale capital

f) be able to fund large-scale training of farmers

g) provide a springboard for further technology and management innovation

h) fund research

i) create a new employment trajectory in the sector

 The core business model for transforming the sector involves:

1.The acquisition and transformation of industrial chemical farms to grow nutrient dense food and fibre on regenerating soils.

2.The layering of additional related economic activity on the acquired land including ecotourism, farm to fork retail, a regenerative consumer brand, renewable energy, appropriate light industry, community housing and more.

3.The sale of the layered enterprises (including the farms) to the people operating them.

4.The long-term ownership of the underlying land being secured in trust enables the separation of the ownership of land from business activity and thus combine public goods and entrepreneurial value creation in a fit-for-purpose governance structure.

We aim to launch this scaled enterprise network during 2021.

Appendix 3: growing affordable nutrient-dense food & fibre on regenerating soils

The price paid by nature for industrial agriculture (and therefore in the long term by us) has been catastrophic. It eradicates topsoil, destroys biodiversity, causes droughts, floods and desertification, depletes nutrients in our food and is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions after fossil fuels.

“The UK has lost 84% of its fertile topsoil since 1850, with the erosion continuing at a rate of 1 to 3cm/yr.”  The Committee on Climate Change report (2015)

By focusing on soil biology and ecological systems aagriculture can align with natural processes. It transforms dirt into soil, is anti-fragile, profitable, and mitigates risks inherent in current conventional practices.  Growing food and fibre in this way is regenerative – ecologically, economically and socially.

Advances in Soil Science have shown that a healthy agroecological system on a farm which regenerates soil is achieved by maximising the presence, diversity and photosynthetic rate of actively growing green plants above ground and maintaining rich webs of life of microbes, mycorrhizal fungi, insects and worms below ground.

There is a growing knowledge-based toolkit that enables farming in this way including no-till, permaculture design, perennial crops, polyculture, bio-inoculants etc.

To achieve maximum ecological and economic results requires an effective decision-making framework and an outcome-based performance measurement system. These are available through Holistic Management and Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) respectively.  Together they provide a management system and science-based quality assurance standard.

Peer-reviewed science evidences the potential for a symbiotic relationship between ecology and economy:

Biodiversity not only creates resilience but is also a driver of soil, plant and animal productivity. 

Regenerative farms have 10x fewer pests than conventional farms.

Healthy soils dramatically reduce the impact of both floods and drought with a 1% increase in soil organic matter storing an extra 65,000 - 95,000 litres of water per acre. 

Nutrient density increases with regenerative farming. 

 Soil organic matter is a more important driver of farm profitability than yields making regenerative farming is more anti-fragile and at least 2x as profitable.

Agroecology can drive economic prosperity sustaining employment levels and increasing incomes.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation


Join the conversation:

Photo of Andrea Vaz-König

Hi Mark! Welcome to the Food Systems Vision Prize! We look forward to deep dive into your vision! All the best!

Photo of Mark Drewell

Thanks Andrea. Super-excited about our work and you initiative! Warmly, Mark