Three year's ago award winning farmer, Ian Farrant, took his first steps towards regenerative farming. He now mob grazes cattle on herbal leys as well as planting hazelnut orchards for agroforestry.
Herefordshire farmer Ian Farrant says he reached a crossroads three years ago. The farm had reached capacity and he needed to reassess the direction of his dairy-beef enterprise.
He had two options: go intensive to improve economies of scale or look closer at regenerative agriculture and what it could offer.
He decided to follow the second path.
“I wanted to take back control. Buying more and more inputs and becoming more intensive wasn't letting us farm with nature” admits Ian, who farms 540 acres at Underley Farm in Herefordshire.
He believes being part of Grassroots Farming is helping him follow his path.
“The first rule of sustainability is it must be profitable. This starts with getting a fair price. Grassroots Farming really understands this and they have been fantastic at supporting us on our journey.”
Three years on, and the business is in a very different place.
“We are learning the art of farming again. It is a far more enjoyable way of doing it,” explains Ian, who recently won the industry’s prestigious Farmers Weekly’s Beef Farmer of the Year (2023).
“We give nature what’s needed and let nature do most of the work for us; that’s been a revelation and has reduced stress.”
Native-breed calves are sourced from the family’s dairy farm in Oxfordshire. "The Aberdeen-Angus breed works beautifully; some of the heifers will finish off grass.”
Animals spend at least nine months at grass, rotationally grazing species-rich grass.
The remaining animals are fed a homegrown mix of forages from the arable rotation.
Cover crops of rye and vetch sown after wheat have helped elongate the grazing season.
Herbal leys have been planted to help build resilience against extreme weather and improve biodiversity.
Ian explains: “Originally, we planted herbal leys to look after the soil and improve its structure but when we started grazing them, we noticed the cattle were thriving. And mid-summer, when the grass was drying up, the chicory and clover was growing like stink.”
The herbal leys have attracted a bounty of biodiversity above and below the soil, from pollinators to worms and apex predators led by the explosion in voles.
“We give the herbal leys 30-days rest after each grazing and the beauty of this is that clover, chicory and plantain will flower in that time so there are always flowers for pollinators from April through to October.”
Water infiltration rates have improved exponentially, too.
“We had three inches of rain in October and lots of neighbouring arable fields were flooded but you could walk across our herbal leys in trainers,” says Ian.
Ian has also seen a return of dung beetles.
“The cattle can be more selective [when grazing herbal leys]. Some days they eat chicory and other days they will leave that. If their body is telling them they need a certain type of nutrient they can find it. With grass, they only had one choice.”
More recently, Ian has planted a 15-acre hazelnut orchard and is supplying an agroforestry company.
“I would love to do more agroforestry so some of our bigger fields are divided by trees that provide an environmental benefit and can be harvested for food production,” he adds.
Ian’s goals are for the farm to be a shining example of sustainable meat production and provide his family and staff with a good work-life balance.