The Week in Soil

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has published the draft clauses on principles and governance to be included in the UK’s new Environment Bill, set to be published in September 2019. Green groups have responded with concerns, including that the proposed watchdog will not have enough independence or power. The EFRA and Environmental Audit Committees have now launched inquiries in to the clauses and are calling for written evidence from interested parties.

 Defra also launched their new Resources & Waste Strategy this week. Responses from the green business community have focused on a need for clear, defined targets and tangible ‘actions that matter.’:

And finally, the Department has announced a ban on outdoor use of metaldehyde from spring 2020, after being advised the pesticide poses an unacceptable risk to birds and mammals. Defra’s alternatives include sowing seed deeper into the soil to prevent slugs from reaching them, and less harmful pesticides containing ferric phosphate.

 Cranfield University is partnering in a new £1.8 million project to analyse the importance of soil in urban areas to social, economic and environmental health. The Functionality of Urban Soils supporting Ecosystem-service Delivery (FUSED) project is one of 14 new Natural Environmental Research Council initiatives. Professor Wilfred Otten said: “Urban soil provides vital services to humans but is neither protected nor well understood.”

Soil has once again been found to hold medicinal properties. Researchers accidentally discovered that clay could be the key to combat obesity - as particles attract and soak up fat droplets so they pass through the digestive system without being absorbed - when studying its ability to facilitate the uptake of anti-psychotic drugs.

This think piece from sustainable agriculture veteran Gunnar Rundgren debates payments for ecosystem services, considering the problems and unintended side effects – including the consequences for soil health. Here he makes new proposals for incentivising a transformation of the agricultural sector.

The Soil health movement is really taking off in the US: this year’s Conservation Tillage conference was grossly oversubscribed. Read a round up of the event here.

The Soil Health Institute has announced their new Chief Scientific Officer: Dr. Cristine Morgan will step up to replace Dr. Steven Shafer, recently retired from the position.

Agri-Tech company Farmeye has launched a new Nutrient Management System, the NMP Portal, which it says could help the average dairy farmer reduce the €9,000/year they lose through productivity and extra fertiliser bills. The online, map-based system for sustainable soil nutrient management is a tool for Agri-consultants and Agronomists to monitor and manage sustainable fertiliser usage on farms.

And finally, Canada has now joined the call for soil health, which is rapidly becoming a global concern. The call for change was made at a recent Farm Forum Event — a conference that focuses on innovation but often in terms of advancing traditional agronomic practices. An advocate argued agriculture needs a radical shift in focus to make soil health the top priority, as organic matter has dropped by 50% since the 1950’s. He said: “Productivity is slipping away in spite of crop production improvements. [It] has not been lost because we farm. It has been lost because of how we farm.”