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McDonald’s: Regenerative grazing for resilient beef farms

24 February 2021

FAI Farms

McDonald’s UK and FAI Farms Ltd pioneer Adaptive Multi-Paddock Grazing (AMP) to build soil, reduce inputs, increase biodiversity and farm resilience.

The beef sector is under pressure to respond to our climate emergency. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says carbon dioxide emissions must “decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030” and reduce by 7.6% every year from 2020 to reach net-zero around 2050. Sustainability and net-zero strategies will not be enough. Regenerative agriculture offers a path to create a food system that draws down more carbon than it emits while also restoring soil quality, increasing biodiversity, and improving farmer resilience.

According to Rodale Institute, "if we converted all global croplands and pastures to regenerative agriculture, we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions."

McDonald’s UK & Ireland and FAI Farms Ltd have initiated a pioneering project to better understand the impacts, barriers and benefits of farming regeneratively using Adaptive Multi-Paddock (AMP) Grazing for beef cattle. The learnings are being captured and used to develop a learning platform for UK and Irish beef producers making the transition on their own farms.

Clare Hill, Regenerative Farming Director at FAI Farms, said, “Regenerative agriculture represents a path towards a new climate future. By working with nature we manage our livestock and crops with the purpose of reviving the health and vitality of our rural ecosystems and communities.”

Farmers adopting regenerative methods have demonstrated improvements in mental wellbeing, productivity, resilience, and profitability.

AMP grazing involves each farm having a bespoke grazing plan, and decisions are made based on principles rather than prescriptions. Regenerative principles include no bare soil, maximising root depth by leaving grass to grow long and optimizing animal impact, through intensive grazing and long periods of rest.

This different approach to farming requires a change of mindset of those working on the farm.

“We see things differently now. We look for root causes to problems, rather than treating symptoms – like thistle or dock plants. We are growing more grass and keeping our soil covered helping with flood and drought resilience, and our daily liveweight gains are better than our previous set stocked system,” said Hill. 

The scope for scaling regenerative agriculture across whole supply chains and understanding the methods for transitioning large, commercially focused farms in our temperate climate is relatively unexplored - nor has it been studied using robust scientific methods. FAI and McDonald’s are investigating what transition across more farms might look like by reviewing the ethical, environmental and economic impact of this approach on FAI’s farm with detailed monitoring of metrics such as soil biology, carbon emissions, animal behaviour, and daily live weight gains.

Harriet Wilson, Agriculture & Sustainable Sourcing Manager at McDonald’s UK & Ireland, said, “We’re excited to be supporting this innovative project with our long-term partners FAI Farms. We know grazing systems provide an opportunity to futureproof the beef industry and drive more resilient production. This programme will create a roadmap to ensure our future beef supply contributes to a sustainable food system where people, local communities, animals and the planet can thrive."

More information about the project, including an introductory video can be found here.

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