The Week in Soil

The pressure’s on: a group of 55 charities, farming groups and think tanks have written to the Prime Minister urging her to seize the opportunity presented by the promised Agriculture Bill and cement new environmental regulations in government policy - to incentivise improvements in biodiversity, flood resilience, soil protection, climate resilience, and public health at this "once in a generation opportunity to secure public goods for society".

The call has been backed by senior Conservative politicians including Zac Goldsmith, Simon Clark – who called for a Brexit that is ‘bold, inspiring and green’ - and former leader and Environment Secretary Lord Michael Howard, who has outlined his argument in this blog for the Green Alliance.

Agricultural run-off has wide-ranging implications: not only a threat to soil health, wildlife and aquatic ecosystems, but also in creating a toxic environment harmful to people and their trades, in this case tourism. The Red Tide on Florida beaches is a pertinent example of the damage high-cost agriculturally-produced sugar and associated fertiliser run-off is doing to the wider environment.

Meanwhile, a new study has affirmed that widespread use of low-tech land management methods to improve soil quality increases the pull of significant amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and therefore reduces the pace of climate change. The challenge is to instigate these practices – such as cover cropping, low-scale grazing and use of specific plants – on a global scale.

As a great example of this approach, one of the most progressive and forward-thinking regenerative farming projects, Familia Luna Farms in Costa Rica, here sets out how the health of the soil is at the heart of their practice: naturally-enhanced soil generates pesticide-free botanical crops that have higher nutritional and active properties, as well as creating more efficient and higher quality crops:

Closer to home, a pioneering farming project using field management techniques dating back to the 13th century has transformed a stretch of Welsh coast – previously given over to intense and heavily mechanised farming in the 1940s - back in to a haven for endangered animals, birds, insects and flowers.

And more land managers are getting on board with the regenerative, environment-centred approach too. “Healthy soils are the engine driving crop and forage production on your farm” says Farming Life, illustrating this piece with details of two recent Sustainable Soil Management events that took place as part of a series of Farm Family Key Skills workshops to highlight the importance of, and give guidance on, managing healthy soils:

More officially good news for environmentally focused, soil-enhancing agricultural methods as the organic market continues its 7th consecutive year of growth due to consumers’ growing preference for ‘healthiness’, ‘taste and inspiration’ confirms the Soil Association, as they hail a ‘major opportunity’ for retailers.

And finally - with an ingenious, permaculture-style solution commonly found in Japan this French farmer is using ducks instead of pesticides to keep his rice fields free of weeds and bugs.