What started with a field of 80 years of conventional maize in France has turned into a support network for farmers across the UK to embrace farming with nature, not against it.

When Andy Cato, co-founder of Wildfarmed, sold his music rights to buy a farm, it was the “horrors” of the industrial food system that pushed him to start a “farming revolution”.

The problem with the linear food production system, which he described as an “outdoor factory”, is that output is maximised to the detriment of the environment.

Starting Wildfarmed, the co-founder said the whole premise was that it has to work for farmers, a key part of which was creating a community and sharing information.

Recalling how tough the first few years in France were, Cato said: “Despite playing some records at the weekend and DJing, the money was still going down rather than up.

“It’s easy to forget just how tough that was and farming requires an absolutely vast array of skills and this is something that is completely underappreciated by society at large.”

“There has been a complete paradigm shift from maximum production after World War Two to nutritional density, water quality, and wildlife restoration”, he added.

As a result producers have been squeezed to the tightest margins, which he said is not reasonable. Instead, in order to change landscapes, support networks for farmers are needed.


Unlike in a linear production system, in a syntrophic system nature optimises photosynthesis and will optimise life, Cato said when asked about his definition of regenerative agriculture.

He highlighted the need for parameters in which farmers can work how they want but in ways that has a syntrophic outcome, instead of nailing down what regenerative agriculture means.

Some Wildfarmed farmers are organic, however the vast majority are conventional who adopt Wildfarmed principles on some of their land and then compare it to their conventional system.

The process is to analyse and identify limiting factors and whether there are plant deficiencies that might need addressing. Effectively, it is about optimising plant diversity, he said.

“When you get the diversity of plants in the soil, there is a very significant and fairly immediate change in the soil biology towards a functioning microbiome,” Cato explained.

Source: Wildfarmed

Although there are a lot of similarities to organic production, Cato said they allow the limited use of nitrogen in split doses, basically 80kg which is about one third of a conventional wheat crop.

The Wildfarmed growing standards are:

  • Cereals grown alongside companion crops;
  • Nutrition based on plant need – SAP testing and limits on fertiliser use;
  • No pesticides, herbicides or fungicides;
  • Use cover crops to minimise bare soil;
  • Integrate livestock.

They found that the combination of plant diversity, getting rid of pesticides, reducing nitrogen use and applying it in smaller doses yields “really good” results from year one, he added.

He said it is not just about how much money a farmer makes, but how much risk they take. While the breakeven point for a conventional wheat field might be 7.5t, they aim to reduce it to 1t.

For harvest 2023 Wildfarmed has worked with over 50 farms across the UK and France. For next year, the business-to-business operation is currently onboarding and expanding its cohort.

Farming with nature

Farmers should get all the money that’s given to people who are rewilding landscapes or wildlife because they are creating wildlife in the same fields that food is grown in, he said.

“If tomorrow I decided to do nothing on my farm, I could get £700-800 for rewilding. Instead, I’m choosing to grow food in fields that are full of flowers and I don’t get anything for that.

“That’s madness. So we’ve got to find a way where we’re not subsidising rewilding rather than subsidising ecosystems that can flourish and feed us at the same time,” Cato said.

Farmers who focus on nutritional policy, water quality rather than yield should be getting a cut of the National Health Service’s (NHS) budget and the water companies’ budget.

“They should be getting all of those revenue streams, and if they did that, that would mean that the cost of food in these systems was the cheapest food on the shelf.

“Whereas at the moment the cost of the food on the shelf, it doesn’t include the water companies getting the nitrates and the pesticides out of the water.

Comparison between farming without and with nature
Source: Wildfarmed

“It doesn’t include the existential threat of the fact that we’ve lost 80% of our insects,” Cato said adding that the picture of devaluing food and a notion of cheapness is “completely artificial”.

However, he said it would not be reasonable to double prices for consumers. Instead, ways need to be found to get the monetary contributions from these farming systems paid to farmers.

“If we can get the true cost of food reflected towards farmers, so that when you go into the supermarket, there’s no price decision, it’s just that where do you want your food to come from.

“The world doesn’t have a food production problem. We are producing enough calories for 10 billion people but we have a distribution and a nutritional quality problem,” he said.