The Week in Soil

It’s been a busy week for farming and the environment in UK parliament and the news.

On Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his Autumn Budget. Green MEP Molly Scott Cato issued a scathing response: “We witnessed billions splashed on climate wreckage, yet not a single mention of the word climate. This despite the fact scientists warned just a few weeks ago we have a 12-year window to transition our economy and society away from fossil fuels.”

Also this week, WWF published their latest Living Planet report, with dire predictions from leading scientists for the future of the planet’s environment and humanity if we continue with ‘business as usual’.

And a long list of eminent politicians, scientists and scholars issued some very tough words for government on the need to take drastic action to tackle the ecological crisis we are plunging in to.

Meanwhile, the Committee on Environment, Food & Rural Affairs conducted an enquiry in to the Agriculture Bill, with Michael Gove and Defra Minister George Eustice quizzed on the future of food production and standards, public health and environmental sustainability in farming. Rewatch the session here.

… the NNFUK led a lobby calling for the Bill to recognise that profit and nature can go happily hand in hand in agriculture, joined by organisations including the soil association, WWF, RSPB, NFU, Young Farmers and more…

…and the Landworkers Alliance are calling for an amendment to include agroecology and local food in the Bill: “Healthy food for all comes when agriculture is in unity with ecology: Agroecology. We all have the right to fair and healthy food but without mindful farming systems, we are in danger of doing irreparable damage.”

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is urging farmers to start sampling their soil now. Only 18% of soils in the North are at optimum fertility, so sampling is essential for future management.

Lots of science news this week too: first off, in an exciting new breakthrough a team of Rockefeller scientists have discovered an antibiotic in the soil that could be the solution to combatting tuberculosis.

Another new study has revealed that long-term annual application of manure improved most soil quality properties compared to inorganic fertilizer. "If you think of soil as a heart, manure is the lifeblood going through it” said the Author.

Due to its biodiversity and huge number of taxa waiting to be discovered, soil fauna has been called the poor man's rain forest – and scholars have found that Estonian soil is surprisingly rich in species. The collaboration between the Estonian University of Life Sciences and Tartu College of Tallinn University can be found here.

Neutrons propelled to Earth by cosmic rays from space are enabling scientists in more than 25 countries to measure water in soil, helping farmers save water and adapt to climate change. The cosmic ray neutron sensor measures moisture levels by detecting fast-moving neutrons in the soil which scientists track to determine when the farmer needs to add water to help crops thrive even in harsh climate conditions.

And finally, soil could provide the key to a future space mission to Mars: NASA are working on new plans to generate rocket fuel from ‘regolith’, Mars’ distinctive red soil, in an initiative dubbed a ‘dust-to-thrust’ factory. They state: "This technology will one day allow humans to live and work on Mars….and return to Earth to tell the story."