Regenerative agriculture in the EU and UK: policies that could help farmers transition 22 September 2021, Online

On 22 September, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) organised a workshop to discuss the potential role of public policies in enhancing the transition towards regenerative agriculture, both at EU and UK level.

Soil health, central to organic farming, is also at the hearth of regenerative agriculture. As both movements  share the common objective of protecting and enhancing soil health, we are currently following the debate on regenerative agriculture.

What should supportive farm policies look like?

In the first presentation of the draft recommendations from the AgriCaptureCO2 project, Célia Nyssens, Policy Officer for Agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau, gave a general overview of the current EU policy framework concerning soil health and protection, highlighting its fragmentation and its weaknesses. Indeed, she claimed that stronger policies are needed, capable of fostering a holistic approach where climate, soil, biodiversity, and rural livelihoods are deeply interconnected.

To reach this objective, the AgriCaptureCO2 specifically project recommends a policy scheme with a strong regulatory baseline for regenerative agriculture. Second in order of importance would be CAP conditionality, followed by incentives from both public and private fundings. According to Célia Nyssens, governments should invest in this regenerative paradigm, enabling factors at individual, social and material levels to support the agricultural community.

How can regenerative agriculture contribute to climate action?

After a short introduction concerning the current climate and environmental crisis, Joe Stanley, Head of Training and Partnerships at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), presented the main principles of regenerative agriculture, explaining how they can contribute to climate action. These principals are biological diversity, maintain living roots, soil protection, integration of organic matter and reduced cultivations.

Stanley also showed the interim results of a Conservation Agriculture trial, a five-year project made in partnership with the Syngenta Sustainable Farming Initiative and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB). According to Stanley, the first outcomes of this project are extremely positive on the environmental front, especially concerning soil health and the reduction of food production’s carbon footprint. In these terms, it seems that “Conservation Agriculture” (another term for regenerative agriculture) should be central to move towards a more sustainable agri-food system.

Nonetheless, the audience addressed several questions to the speaker regarding the effective sustainability of this type of agriculture, since the trials are in fact conducted on non-organic farms and the use of pesticides and fertilisers is allowed. Stanley claimed that, in the future, they hope to integrate a more organic approach, but until now they believe that synthetic inputs are still fundamental to guarantee a productive agricultural sector in the UK.

Supportive farm policies: Farmers’ point of view

During the workshop, farmers from various EU countries started a panel debate always related to supportive farm policies. Paul Wiss, Austrian organic farmer, talked about the importance of introducing measures to improve soil health in terms of organic content, while Stelio Kteniadakis, Greek organic farmer, claimed that public policies should foster organic farming as the best way to fight climate change. In particular, they stressed the need to invest in educating farmers to support them in the transition towards organic food production.

How should policymakers harness and shape private financing for regenerative agriculture?

After a first presentation from Célia Nyssens, another panel debate began with Lucy Bates, Technical Manager at LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), who talked about LEAF Sustainable Farming Review and the importance of raising public awareness on regenerative agriculture.

Ana Frelih-Larsen, coordinator of the Ecologic Institute’s activities on agriculture and soil, expressed a particular concern on payment schemes for carbon farming, underlined the potential risks that they can entail. The Ecologic Institute has indeed published a Technical Guidance Handbook on setting up and implementing result-based carbon farming mechanisms in the EU, which provides critical reflections on the possibilities and limits of this result-based schemes for carbon farming.

Andrew Bowen, CEO of the One Carbon World, has then deepened the topic of carbon credits. One Carbon World is a carbon neutral not-for-profit organisation and a global resource partner of the Climate Neutral Now Initiative, launched by United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to promote the voluntary use of carbon market mechanisms. Moreover, it is also one of the partners involved in the AgriCaptureCO2 project.

Gilles Dufrasne, policy officer at Carbon Market Watch, took the floor focusing on the case for caution in carbon markets, starting from a great explanation of what carbon credit is and of the difficulties in measuring its concrete results. The panel debate ended with a practical case: Duncan Farrington, British farmer, raised awareness on carbon emissions in agriculture, explaining how he is tackling its farm’s footprint through LEAF farming strategies and by achieving the Carbon Neutral Gold Standard. The Europaen Environmental Bureay organised this event as part of the AgriCaptureCO2 project, a three-year H2020 funded project looking at the potential of soil as a carbon sink, whilst promoting the implementation of regenerative agricultural practices.

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