Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett

Growing up on an arable farm in Oxfordshire (now run by my brother and father) I loved farming but also had a passion for horses. I found a degree that combined both of these, the International Agriculture and Equine Business Management degree at what is now the Royal Agricultural University.

After graduating I decided to focus on agriculture.   I could see the importance of conservation in the farming industry and this coupled with a realisation of how little I knew about wildlife made me determined to work in this area. After a short period at the Environment Agency I landed my dream job working on agri-environment schemes for the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency. A number of name changes and reorganisations later I now work for Natural England.

Having spent 14 years on farms in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire negotiating and supporting farmers with their agri-environment agreements it was time to step away and into a national role. My current job is jointly project managing a pilot looking at an alternative approach to agri-environment: Payment by Results. Currently EU funded, Defra announced a continuation of this pilot for a further two years as part of the Tests and Trials work for the Environmental Land Management scheme. Being involved with the pilot and getting to work with a group of inspiring farmers has been truly rewarding.

I am married to a vet with two children (8 and 12) so spare time is limited. I love gardening, walking and generally being outside. I am also a trustee of an environmental charity: Wild Oxfordshire which encourages collaborative working between environmental organisations in the county. Recently I have become involved in managing a field which will be used by the local school to learn about farming and wildlife.

Having completed the Worshipful Company of Farmers Challenge of Rural Leadership course in 2018 I set my sights on a Nuffield Farming Scholarship. Being awarded one is a dream come true and I am extremely grateful to the generosity of my sponsors the Central Region Farmers Trust and the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust for this amazing opportunity.

 

Study Overview

Regenerative Agriculture is a concept that was first coined in the early 1980’s by Robert Rodale but it is only in the past ten years that it has become a more commonly used term. It is often thought to be another phrase for sustainable farming or agroecology, but is in fact much more than this, covering the economic and social as well as the environmental aspects of farming. As agriculture continues to suffer from a loss of community, soil degradation and economic hardship, the drive for farmers to make a change grows by the day.

For many farmers who wish to change their system to reflect regenerative agriculture there is no shortage of information that can be accessed on-line, in books or in person. Change in itself can be filled with challenges for a human race that feel more comfortable to follow the crowd. This report was undertaken to find out why farmers became involved with regenerative agriculture, the issues they faced and how they were overcome.

The study focuses on the journey farmers which have been on, as they change their way of farming to encompass the more holistic approach of regenerative agriculture, rather than the techniques used. Interviews were conducted across a wide range of climates and farming systems.

I found that land degradation was very often at the heart of change, with farmers unable to continue with the techniques that were causing those issues. But there is also a passion for the concept behind regenerative agriculture that is sparking interest in a new generation. For all the passion and desire for change, farmers still have to be able to stand apart from the crowd and be able to continue, despite the negative attention of those around them which can often lead to feelings of isolation. If that can be overcome, the next challenge is often being able to make a success of the new techniques that have been implemented.

Central to overcoming the majority of these issues the farmer needs to understand their purpose and to put this at the centre of their decision making. This could be a set of goals, a business plan or setting a formal holistic context through which all decisions will be made. It should be a process that is undertaken by all the key stakeholders within the business, including those who work for the farmer, in order to gain support from those around them. Support can also come from like-minded small groups of farmers or by an organisation which shares the same values.

It is also imperative that pioneering farmers are put at the heart of research and that their findings are disseminated through appropriate channels: by doing so it will be farmers that are kept at the heart of regenerative agriculture.

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