A Yorkshire farmer has been awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to study how the introduction of livestock onto arable farms can 'heal' soils, have a net positive impact on the earth and make financial sense.

Alastair Trickett, who is also chairman of Future Farmers of Yorkshire, has been awarded the scholarship, which being funded by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and the National Trust.

Entitled ‘Nuance and diversity – mixed farming for the future farmer’, Alastair commented: “What I am interested in is how livestock can be used to regenerate land, nature and farms. Soil is really, really important to civilisation. Without soil you have no food in supermarkets, that’s the reality.

"You look back through history and see civilisations collapse once they exhaust their soils. We have got to look after the soil and I believe, contrary to what we read in popular titles, that animals are the key to unlocking a food production system that regenerates the environment.”

The scholarship will take him to Australia, North America, Africa and Europe. “I want to look at farms using animals to improve their soil health, improve the productivity of their land and improve nature and biodiversity as well as food production.

“There’s some interesting examples in Australia where farmers are using animals to fight severe drought. They used controlled holistic grazing to capture and store more water in their soils.

"Similarly, in the US, farmers are growing cereals more environmentally because they have animals grazing the same land in rotation.”

He will be the third generation of the Trickett family to be awarded the prestigious scholarship, which takes farmers all over the world to study best practice to impart to the community afterwards.

“When my grandfather was farming, it was a dairy farm with pigs and a small bit of arable. He came from a non-farming background, but he always had a passion for farming and agriculture, and he did a Nuffield Scholarship.

"When my dad took over the farm, it was at a time when farmers were encouraged to specialize and achieve economies of scale. He did a Nuffield Scholarship in how to farm arable profitably in the early 1990s. He bought his brother out of dairy and specialised in arable. We reduced labour considerably, took on more land and then ran a successful, profitable, arable farm.”

Alastair said it is ironic that he now wants to come full circle by bringing back animals to the arable farm. “This mirrors what we have seen in the industry. We were to encouraged to specialise but that’s led to pressures," he pointed out.

"The industry is waking up to the fact that simple systems in nature are not particularly sustainable because nature is not that simple. We need the public to wake up to this also. I want to show that it’s much more damaging not having animals.

“The other element is about the role livestock play in regenerating the environment, taking carbon dioxide out of the air and locking it into the soil, reversing the effects of manmade emissions into the environment.”

He said he hoped his studies would be used to trigger a culture change, so that farmers could see a way to regenerate nature and tell a positive story to consumers, whilst at the same time improving financial resilience.

Alastair has also recently set up a new online business for customers who want to eat less but better meat. “People feel guilty about eating meat. They’re told it’s either un-environmental or unhealthy," he said.

"But what if they knew that the meat they were eating was helping to heal soil and nature? What if when eating our meat, they could see the bigger mission that our animals are helping to achieve?”