Regenerative agriculture (RA) is often referred to as the solution for securing food production, whilst promoting ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and water filtration. But is it suitable for a Scottish climate?

RA has five key principles which aim to place soil health at the heart of a profitable farm. These are: minimal soil disturbance; maximum crop diversity; constant soil cover; maintenance of a living root; and integration of livestock. However, in Scotland, these guidelines provide significant challenges compared to arid regions, where RA is more widespread.

A group of farmers under the 'Farming for a Better Climate' initiative is looking at how to solve these issues on five farms in the East of Scotland. The ultimate goal is to maintain crop outputs while reducing fertiliser and chemical inputs and reducing fixed costs.

RA intends to move away from input intensive farming towards a comprehensively managed system, utilising nature to solve many common problems on a farm.

However, some of the current challenges faced by the group include the establishment of cover crops and reducing compaction caused by field operations.

Cover crops are an important element of RA as they provide species diversity, help to fix nutrients and contribute organic matter to the soil. The soil protection offered by cover crops can also help to reduce wind and rain erosion throughout the winter.

However, it is common in Scotland for cover crops to fail to produce any significant quantity of biomass – above or below ground. Species selection to meet the objectives of soil improvement can be difficult when the growing season is short.

Furthermore, the group has found early establishment into a cash crop is necessary in Scotland to promote adequate growth.

Another significant issue is fitting root crops into a rotation while minimising soil disturbance. Potatoes, in particular, often offer competitive seasonal rents, however this financial gain is often offset by soil damage due to destoning and harvesting.

Hugh Black, at Backboath Farm, grows potatoes and has found that thinking about why he is doing a job whilst doing it often raises questions about why he is carrying out that operation. He emphasised that crops which stress farm soils require you to work harder to promote soil health during the rest of the rotation.

He pointed out: “It is easier to realise the needs of the land when you are are working it and being part of this group has made decision making easier knowing that strange ideas can actually work.

“Being adaptive to the ground conditions is key in RA and planning systems months in advanced doesn’t always work in the real world."

Reducing inputs can also provide problems when planning to balance maximum crop production with maintained soil nutrient status. One way Ben Barron, from Leitfie Farms, is doing this is by using small, but regular foliar feeds to maximise nutrient uptake.

He said: “My aim is to apply 50% fewer nutrients in a more accurate way to reduce waste and costs. We aren’t sure how long it will take to reach this goal; but we are moving in the right direction.”

The group is also trialling areas of reduced chemical applications this season to compare with standard spray programmes.

* More information about the group at