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08 January 2021

We’re starting the 2021 Week in Soil series with the top soil-related stories from the end of last year and those of the first week of 2021. Here is what you might have missed:

Dame Glenys Stacey has been confirmed as the leader of England’s post-Brexit green watchdog, the Office for Environment Protection (OEP). The OEP will be created once the Environment Bill has become law. In the meantime, an interim body chaired by Dame Glenys Stacey will take on some limited functions.

A soil health guide was launched at the end of the year, aiming to become the world’s most comprehensive resource that will help farmers improve their soil health whilst increasing their farm’s efficiency and profitability. The Good Soil Guide is a collaboration between Yorkshire Water, Future Food Solutions and soil scientist Neil Fulleris. It is written by farmers for farmers and is free to use.

Food giant Danone North America has announced its 2020 year three results from their multi-million soil health research program. In its third year, the program has tripled to more than 82,000 acres across the US and Canada. Danone will continue to expand its regenerative agricultural dairy program to improve organic matter in soils to increase carbon sequestration, improve yields, restore biodiversity, and enhance soil water holding capacity.

On Thursday, the Oxford Real Farming Conference began and will be running until next Wednesday. The annual gathering is occurring online and at a global scale this year, bringing together a huge community of farmers, food producers, activists, researchers, policy-makers and NGOs, offering practical advice and exploring the pressing issues in food, farming and fishing. There has already been a range of panels covering the importance of soil health and the role agricultural practices can play in ensuring and protecting it. The full programme and tickets are available here.

On the same day, the Food, Farming & Countryside Commission published their new report, ‘Farming for Change: mapping a route to 2030’. The report covers new research that demonstrates that agroecology can produce enough healthy food for the UK’s population, tackling the nature and health crisis at the same time. The research explores how soil fertility can be ensured without the use of synthetic inputs, by balancing integrating livestock and arable systems to match nitrogen supply and need.

'Feast to Save the Planet’ aired on BBC Two on Monday evening, with MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace and mathematician Dr Hannah Fry. Prof Emanga Alobwede demonstrated how algae can be used to amend degraded soils and ensure soil fertility. She presented her recent research, creating a biofertilizer from algae that can improve soil structure and limit nitrogen runoff into rivers. Watch the documentary here (from 41 mins). 

Farmers across the UK have been setting up their own weather monitoring networks, believed to be more efficient than official forecasts. Information collected gives a more accurate representation of their microclimates, allowing for ways to save water and get better models for greenhouse gas emissions from soils.

New research conducted at the Queen Mary University of London has found that over 70% of soil bacteria are capable of living on small amounts of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane in the air, which helps regulate atmospheric pollution. This challenges the common idea of organic carbon being the primary source of energy to soil microbes.

A new paper seeks to demystify soil structure by exploring the differences in natural versus tilled soil structures. The goal of the study is to propose a framework for distinguishing soil structure in natural and managed ecosystems with potential metrics in line with their respective roles in natural or arable lands.