Originally published March 2021.
This newly trendy approach is not just environmentally and consumer friendly, it’s practical too – and at root it’s as old as the hills.
Regenerative agriculture is the groundswell movement shaking up land investment at the moment. The approach is gaining popularity not only with farmers and land managers but also with scientists, policy-makers and the public. Over the last two years, my conversations on the topic have evolved from farmers looking to add brand value through adopting practices allied with regenerative agriculture, to most recently a rather urgent interest from investors looking for a new source of nature-based climate-saving solutions.
Many property investors are only now waking up to the climate crisis and the need to take responsibility for sustainability impact, so for them thinking about regenerative systems might seem a bit ‘out there’. The confusion over the difference between regenerative systems and sustainability does not help. To be clear, all regenerative models are sustainable – however, not all sustainable action is regenerative. A regenerative system fixes the root cause of the problem first, renewing its inherent growth potential, whereas sustainability just tries to stop the initial problem getting worse.
The reason regenerative agriculture is gaining so much interest is that accredited carbon accounting systems require conversion of land from agricultural production to something else. For carbon investors, this is usually planting trees. Scaling up tree planting across the UK is front and centre of government policy, yet the barriers to woodland creation are legion, from planning concerns (in England) to land availability (in Scotland). The impact on land values for the tiny amount of land suitable for tree planting that comes to market each year is evident: in Scotland we tracked a 17.5% increase in the value of ‘poor livestock’ land last year, with its suitability for tree planting and competition between buyers for a scarce resource driving this dramatic capital appreciation.