The Week in Soil

Tesco has teamed up with WWF to halve the environmental impact of the average shopper’s food basket by encouraging consumers to adopt more sustainable diets, boosting biodiversity in food production, and tackling both food and packaging waste. Tesco have said the move was driven by consumer sentiment. WWF is keen to develop a pioneering industry measure and related actions over the 4 years of the partnership.

More debate on the shape the UK’s new Agriculture Bill should take, as the New Economics Foundation debates the complex concept of ‘public goods’ and how it should be defined in a  piece for the Sustainable Food Trust. Will the concept drive food production in England to become more or less sustainable?

 And in the latest in a series from the Trust reflecting a range of perspectives from farmers across the country, Farmdrop’s Ben Pugh considers what impact Brexit will actually have on agricultural workers.

 In ‘A Soil Microbe Saved My Life’, the author describes amazement to learn her chemotherapy medicines were derived from soil bacteria. With the revelation that half all recently approved cancer drugs come from plants, microbes and fungi; ¾ anti-tumour compounds exist as or are derived from natural products; and that natural medicine sources have played a critical role in doubling human life expectancy in the 20th century, came a newfound respect for the value of nature and the need to protect it.

“Given the rate of loss, we are undoubtedly losing species whose potential as medicines we’ll never know.”

A study published in Science of the Total Environment has found that an increase in both nitrogen and phosphorous in Tibetan soil reduces its overall organic carbon volume, due to the stimulation of microbial decomposition accelerating the growth of bacteria that turn organic matter to CO2. These findings will help with the reconsidering of fertiliser use and land management practices in agriculture.

New research in to soil warming has led to the discovery of 16 distinct giant viruses previously unknown to science, as reported in the journal Nature Communications. The forest in Massachusetts is host to the world’s longest running soil-warming experiment, and scientists were originally working on isolating bacteria to increase understanding of global warming’s effect on microbial communities when the finds were made.

"Soil is immensely diverse, and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the organisms and viruses that inhabit it" researchers said.

Finally, as the Philippines observes its Global Warming & Climate Change Consciousness Week, a lawmaker is fighting for the approval of a Soil & Water Conversation Act. The resulting National Soil & Water Preservation programme will aim to protect the country’s food security and agricultural productivity, to include creation of 1,000 soil & water conservation farms, largescale rainwater harvesting systems and the implementation of sustainable land management projects.