Scott Millar

 

Farmers have a special role in society: to nurture the land in order to grow food to sustain and nourish the population. However, all farmers, from veg growers to those producing meat, eggs and milk, are working within a system that has historically prioritized outputs over people and the environment and this is slowing down their responsiveness to the climate and nature emergencies.

Scott Millar, a small-holder with 25 sheep and 25 acres in Monmouthshire, is emphatic about this:

“Farmers love nature, they are not wanting to create environmental destruction. They’re just trying really hard to work under a lot of constraints.”

A key constraint for Scott is that when a farmer starts to create a product 18 months ahead of selling it, they have no control over what they will be paid for it. The long wait to discover the impact of any changes to agricultural practices is no doubt a tense one.

In Monmouthshire, farmers want a viable way forward. They are coming together to share knowledge and find ways to fulfill their responsibilities to the land. Ryan Whittall’s Square Farm is one site that’s receiving support via a mentoring scheme: “At Square Farm, both my Father and I are constantly seeking ways to improve and enhance the land we work on. The ethos I hold as a third generation farmer, is that I am merely a custodian of the land for future generations.”

Ben Taylor Davies, also known as Regen Ben, is delivering mentoring to farmers in Monmouthshire and across the world. He points out that working with nature also benefits farmers’ businesses:

“When you actually work with Mother Nature, she’s very forgiving. And when you work together it’s really quite easy and profitable. Since farming with the environment, my farm’s spiraling debt has been reversed and that’s something that’s massively important for me, and the future of my farm.”

Practices that improve soil health during the process of food production have in the past been viewed as too time intensive to deliver at scale. However, mainstream practices such as deep ploughing, pesticide use, monoculture planting and applying artificial fertilizers are quite literally costing the earth. Soil health is declining and the decomposition of organic matter is leading to greater quantities of carbon entering our atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Farmers are now embracing methods for improving soil health. For Scott Millar, like many farmers, it’s about questioning assumptions within the sector: “I started to talk to more farmers that were farming in nature-friendly and regenerative ways. I realized the only reason I had for doing half the things I do was the fact that traditionally that’s what you’ve been taught to do or that’s what you see other farmers do.”

Scott runs a discussion group for farmers, called Talk Farm Regen Monmouthshire, and one of the main purposes of that group is to support and encourage its members while they experiment and try things out. One aspect of this is hearing from speakers who have had successes whilst working within a shared or similar climate and geography. Scott himself has started to rotationally graze his sheep to remove unwanted plants such as docks and thistles and in one year has reduced the amount of land he sprays with herbicides from the full 25 acres to only 5-6 acres. This has saved him money and improved conditions for local wildlife.

The Llanover Estate, an estate near Abergavenny with 600 acres of farmland, has also been rotating their grazing animals, concentrating them in smaller parcels of land for short periods of time. They’ve seen their soil and grasses improve so much that it’s removed the need for fertilizer.

The more that farmers are hearing about the possibilities of system change the more they are getting behind it. Regen Ben’s proof of that is the requests for help that fill his inbox almost every day. “It’s just sowing that seed,” he says. As every farmer knows, a well nurtured seed has every chance of growing.