With increasing food demand, climate change and the drive towards a circular economy, regenerative agriculture (reusing ‘waste’ and improving crop nutrient acquisition) improves sustainability. Reusing wastewater sludge, animal manures and slurry replaces synthetic fertilisers whilst reducing carbon emissions and landfill requirements. The UK’s Circular Economy Package is driving 65% municipal waste reduction by 2035, incentivising wastewater treatment companies to reuse sludge. Waste reuse aids achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. However, these waste products may contain contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) such as human and veterinary pharmaceuticals, among other chemicals.
UoL and UoY research has demonstrated CECs can negatively affect soil and plant health, and contribute to antimicrobial resistance; a global health emergency. To enable crop access to soil nutrients and decrease reliance on chemical fertilisers crop-mycorrhizal fungal symbiosis forms a vital part of soil health. CECs have been demonstrated to negatively impact on this symbiotic relationship reducing phosphorus transfer from soil to plant.
Whilst we have advanced regenerative agricultural research, this has centred on a natural science, siloed approach. Whilst this has provided fundamental understanding, we need to work with farmers and social scientists to develop practices and policy recommendations integrating farmer perspectives to ensure longevity. Research at UoS, has demonstrated the importance of British farmers participation in policy development for adopting regenerative practices. Capitalising on current farmer engagement in agricultural research at UoS and UoL means that now when to undertake this project.
Our vision is to establish a multidisciplinary academic-farmer network supporting a safe transition to regenerative agriculture. Knowledge exchange with feedback loops and open communication is crucial.
We aim to create a platform whereby farmers’ views on reusing waste streams, are considered alongside farm management, economic and policy constraints together with novel pollution and mycorrhiza science.