Kylie Magner: how regenerative farming is better for the climate?
In this issue, Dr. Green Economy speaks with Kylie Magner about her business in regenerative farming and its positive influence on the environment.
Kylie is a founder of Magners Farm— a family-run regenerative farm in Fethard County Tipperary, Ireland. Growing up on a farm in Australia, Kylie is an eight-generation farmer. Her love for nature comes from her father, who used to work for an organization called the Soil Conservation Service. Although the definition of regenerative farming was a different landscape 60 years ago, creating systems to rejuvenate the soil, maximize food nutrition, and boost environmental quality was something she was introduced to from early age. Her dedication to sustainable and regenerative farming is well appreciated, and because of this, Kylie was awarded the ‘Breaker in action' award from The Break fellowship.
Q. What is your motivation for regenerative farming?
A. When I was growing up on our farm, regenerative farming wasn’t seen as a thing or a movement. It was just a way of life. My family lived an hour away from a supermarket. So, my parents found a way to work on our farm to meet our needs for vegetables and meats. My mum grew lots of vegetables and made jams and butter at home. My dad used to milk cows every morning. I grew up seeing those activities around me, and therefore, farming comes to me naturally. The more I do, the more satisfying it becomes for my family. My husband worked with horses most of his life, but farming is also engraved in his psyche. We both are happily engaged in farming, nature, and looking after the soil, but our version of regenerative farming also includes livestock.
Q. What exactly is regenerative farming?
A. Regenerative farming is based on following the circles of nature. It aims to keep the soil covered at all times so that carbon can be captured. Regenerative farming increases the economic return to the farmers, providing also social benefits and mental well-being with the fact that farmers feel they are doing something for the environment. The food, created in a regenerative agricultural system is higher in nutrients, which means consumers are healthier eating products. It regenerates topsoil, increases biodiversity, and makes the whole ecosystem resilient to climate change, giving it economic, environmental, and social positive benefits.
Q. How and why did you start your company?
A. In 2004, we purchased a farm in Ireland with a dream to eventually make it home. After seven years in Australia, we moved back to Ireland in 2017. That is when I decided to work on a farm and make it my business. I looked at different enterprises and the one that caught my eyes was hens. The more reading I did, the more incredible benefits of the hens and chicken I found. I liked the idea it was something my children could get involved in as well.
We started with 50 hens. As demand grew, we started going to markets. With time, we increased our hen numbers, got registered with the Department of Agriculture, accredited by The Irish Organic Society, and never looked back.
While in the hen business, I read that if we could include sheep and cattle— those animals could have enormous benefits to the soil. We used the principles from Alan Savory and Joel Salatin. These guys were presenting a very simple procedure of holistic plant grazing, starting with cattle and sheep and following along behind with hens. Those combinations of animals all contribute incredibly to the nutrients of the soil and a nutrient dense product to humans.
In this way, hens also behave with their instincts, because their diet is varied. They are not confined to a small space, eating produced commercial feed. They are grazing for natural food that they would normally digest in a natural environment, such as worms and grass. They are picking up things that are incredibly important for their microbiome, which adds up to nutrient-dense eggs.
After a while, what we noticed was that what was fairly degraded ground magically transformed into beautiful natural pasture land. The more we did, the more it flourished. The more the land recovered, so bountiful it became and we needed less and less land to run our business. We also did not need any sort of fertilizers - the animals did it for us.
Q. As customers, how can we make sure we are buying from regenerative farming?
A. In terms of eggs, there are four classifications in Ireland; (0) organic or bio, (1) free range, (2) barn, (3) caged. If you are buying from a supermarket, the first classification (marked with a zero on the egg) is the way to go. If you are looking for the best eggs, the best thing is to get to know the farmers and find someone who is producing eggs in a mobile system. Just make sure that hens are actually on a move in a mobile house, and they move from area to area and have access to grass all the time. We call it pastured ranged eggs. It’s a step up from organic and doesn’t have a formal classification. Some small-scale farmers, like us, are open to customers visiting them and looking around.
Q. What are your current challenges?
A. Inflation has made the feed cost rise from €450 a ton to over €1000 and the feed cost is half of the overall cost. For us, it's very difficult to go to our customers and say we now need to raise our costs while still giving the same quality of eggs.
We mitigate this challenge by being transparent. We are a small producer, and we have a good relationship with our consumers. Our ethos has to be honest, and being transparent is our top priority. It's one thing to tell our customers to believe in us but we are also prepared to open our gate and welcome them to the farm, any day of the week, any time of the day. When we say that to customers, some of them turn up and ask if they can come and visit. We allow them to have a look at whatever they want to have a look at. When you are honest with them, they trust you. So that means when you say something like our feed cost has tripled, they trust you enough to say we believe enough in your product that we are going to pay that extra.
We also overcome our challenges by putting educational cards in our egg boxes. We use social media, not only for marketing but also to show our way of life. We show our processes and products, and stay very transparent and open. And I think people trust that and respect that.
Q. Do you have some tips for starting a company?
A. To start any kind of business, you need to be passionate about your business. You have to believe in it 100%. Nowadays, we are so lucky to have information freely available online. Read, listen, learn and hear as much as you can about the field you are entering. Learn from the people who have done the business before and have been there. You don’t have to follow everything they say but the greater perspective you can have about your business, the better you will become at it. Try finding a great mentor.
Try talking to other like-minded people and also to people who are the polar opposite of what your business represents. In my case, sitting in a room full of regenerative farmers is beautiful, but I also want to sit in a room full of commercial farmers and listen to their perspectives to understand why they are doing what they are doing. That gives me their insights on why some systems might be better and even learn if needed.
Also, the most important thing, look after yourself. After seven years in business and having four children, I can’t stress this highly enough.
Q. What do you think is the future of the regenerative farming?
A. It could be possible that soon we will see a shortage of eggs in supermarkets selves because the current model is unsustainable. I think that the current business model for a lot of agricultural products is commodity driven. People are producing a commodity, which goes through multiple selling agents multiple times to reach the final consumers. There are so many steps in that chain that if suddenly your input price goes up, you have no way of getting out of it. So, eventually, somewhere along the line, someone gets broken so badly that they cannot re-enter the market unless they have a huge bank account.
As a result, in the case of egg producers, they go out of business, because they would have to meet the contract at loss. They are so badly in debt to the people who supply them (hen companies and feed companies) that they can't re-enter the market. People like us who are selling directly to the consumer, are not in control of input but we are in control of what we charge for our products. I think there will be smaller and smaller producers, re-entering the market.
Q. What are your plans for the future of your company?
A. We currently sell our eggs locally and across Ireland. We are going to keep on with the current model we have because I think it is sustainable. It has great Environmental benefits. We almost run a circular bio-economy on our farm. We don't produce waste. We do have feed costs but our hens are also eating a lot from what they can forage themselves.
Going forward, we would be trying to maintain equilibrium by increasing consumers’ knowledge, that our product is different, showing them the real value of food. Our food is more expensive for a reason and part of that reason is animal welfare. We can't produce 1000 eggs a day because our system is not up for it but if we have 100 people doing what we are doing, then you can supply enough to feed the city. Doing better for farming, we are doing better for our customers and the environment.
Note - Green Entrepreneurs are those, whose businesses are working towards reducing environmental impact by adopting the principles of the circular economy. They are featured once a month in this newsletter. If you want to be featured in one of the issues, email us at email@example.com.
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