McDonald’s UK and Ireland & FAI: Demonstrating Commercial Regenerative Beef Farming

The beef industry, along with many other industries within the food sector are under extreme pressure to take bolder steps towards a truly sustainable food system.

Regenerative agriculture is an approach to growing food that aims to actively rebuild degraded soil, recharge watersheds, and dramatically increase biodiversity. If that wasn’t enough of a good news story, then add the fact that studies on the farmers adopting regenerative methods have demonstrated improvements in mental wellbeing, productivity, resilience and profitability and you have the makings of a very hopeful future for the beef industry.

Until recently regenerative agriculture has only been tried in the UK and Ireland on a relatively small scale by passionate advocates of the approach. The scope for scaling regenerative agriculture across whole supply chains and understanding the methods for transitioning large commercially focused farms in our colder, wetter, environment is relatively unexplored - nor has it been studied using robust scientific methods.

FAI and McDonald’s have partnered on a project aimed at understanding what it will take to move the UK & Irish beef production towards a commercial regenerative approach and collecting the necessary data to evidence it.

Starting with our own farm in Oxford, we are implementing a regenerative farming technique called Adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing. Through holistic planning, this approach helps farmers like us, to take a proactive management of the many moving parts involved in their beef enterprise.

Podcast

Farm Gate

To hear more about AMP grazing tune into the Farmgate podcast, a collaboration between FAI and Farmwell. Episode 23 talks about another AMP grazing project over in the United States.

WHAT IS AMP GRAZING

AMP grazing works with, rather than against, nature. It places the cattle and their managers within the natural environment mimicking natural processes in order to improve ecological function. Adopting this agro ecological approach can reduce many of the financially and environmentally heavy input costs, prevent disease, and buffer the effects of drought and flood, moving farms toward a more resilient and consistently productive system.

AMP grazing requires a shift in farmers perspectives on how they see their farming environment and how they address perceived ‘challenges’. The key is in the name; “Adaptive” multi paddock grazing which recognises that the approach is more than the adoption of a sustainability measure. Adaptive management requires the manager to understand and employ principles not prescriptions, and use observation of ecological feedback to adapt the management for the best regenerative outcomes possible; for the environment, animals, and people involved. Each farm’s grazing plan will be bespoke and management will be flexible taking into consideration the producer’s ongoing needs and prospects.

The project aims to demonstrate the benefits of AMP grazing and provide a platform for training and support for UK and Irish beef producers making the transition on their own farms.

OVER THE NEXT FOUR YEARS WE WILL

YEAR 1

To demonstrate how to transition to an AMP grazing system, the FAI farm in Oxford has been undergoing a conversion towards regenerative farming since January 2020. We have upskilled the team, transformed the old working strategy for our beef production, and are recording a wide suite of baseline metrics. We are also establishing a group of AMP advisory experts to develop a growing network within AMP grazing and regenerative farming in the UK.

After one year, what changes are we seeing?

  • Longer grass kept moisture in the ground during this year’s hot summer, providing a shady carpet to prevent evaporation and buffer heavy rainfall/flooding.

  • The pastures ‘buzzing with insects and butterflies’ is being noticed by locals and commented on in local facebook groups

  • The animals are eating a much wider diet as they forage hedgerows, ‘weeds’ and all plants. It seems like their nutritional wisdom is being rebuilt. They are learning to eat in a different way

  • The team looking after them have regained a sense of hope for British beef farming by changing to this system.

  • The livestock are achieving impressive weight gains and a reduction in certain pervasive disease issues?

  • A reduction in machinery use and a housed time? Which cutting costs?

When discussing farm activity, we look not at what we are doing, but at what we are seeing. Thistles have cropped up in the river meadow, we don’t make a plan to destroy them, we ask ourselves why they have these appeared and adjust our management practices to create the conditions that no longer provide the conditions they like.

Clare Hill FAI Agricultural Strategy Director

YEARS 2-4

From transitioning our own farm and documenting our experiences and learnings, we will develop a practical and engaging training and advisory programme for other farmers and supply chain actors. We plan to do this through a selection of engaging on-farm and web-based training opportunities allowing participants to gain first-hand immersive experience in systems-led AMP grazing approach and practices. We plan to launch the supply chain course in Jan 2021 and the farmer academy in the second half of 2021.

FAI and McDonald’s hope to gain valuable insight into what AMP grazing and regenerative farming looks like on a successful commercial beef system. Using evidence collected in the FAI farm’s transition to create a comprehensive training and engagement platform we will demonstrate and share our farm’s progress helping industry and other producers move UK beef production towards systems that put a halt to the degradation of our land but give back to, and regenerate, our landscape.