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27 May 2022

Defra published its Pollinator Action Plan, aiming to improve support and protection of UK pollinators, including research into the impacts of soil management. The Action Plan sets out research, agri-environmental schemes, public engagement, and other actions that Defra and partner organisations will undertake between 2021 and 2025 to promote pollinators, such as bees. 

Guidance on the soil standards for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) has been updated by Defra. Specific guidance on how to undertake practices and find further information has been provided, including for soil assessments, testing soils, and adding organic matter. The SFI is expected to open to applications in June.

The government has introduced to Parliament a Genetic Technology Bill, allowing gene-editing to take place on certain crops. Defra believes the bill will help the development of ‘innovative tech to grow more resistant, nutritious, and more productive crops’. Friends of the Earth have stated that gene-editing is Genetic Modification by a different name and is an attempt to deal with ‘problems caused by poor soils, over-use of pesticides and intensive farming’.  

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has called for global ‘strong support and solidarity’ to improve and maintain the health of at least 50% of soils worldwide by 2030. This goal is outlined in the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) Action Framework (2022-2030) put before the 10th Plenary Assembly of the GSP held this week. The framework includes measurable performance targets and aims to ensure the importance of healthy soils is acknowledged. 

George Monbiot has published his new book, Regenesis, focusing on the global food and farming system and its impact on the planet. The book looks at how current farming practices have caused environmental degradation and damage to our soils. Monbiot sets out a new vision for a food and farming system which will be ‘liberating the land from ploughs and poisons’. 

A new analysis by the Centre for International Environmental Law finds agrochemicals are a major source of microplastics in soils and dangerous as they can cross-biological barriers whilst still carrying toxins. In the EU, 36,000 tonnes of microplastics are introduced to soils each year through agrochemicals, and contribute 65% of microplastics intentionally added to the environment. The analysis concludes governments should close regulatory gaps and ban the intentional use of microplastics in agriculture. 

New research by the University of Colorado has tracked sulphur loss from grape vines. Sulphur is regularly used as a fungicide on vines to protect them from infections, but through rain it often ends up in soils and eventually rivers. The study tracked how the sulphur moved from the vines to soils and on to water sources. It hopes to support wine-producers in monitoring their impact on local soils from sulphur use.

A SoilCare project looked at the adoption of different soil-improving cropping systems (SICS) that offer holistic improvements in soil management including economics, sustainability and sociocultural factors. The project found that in the EU, economic considerations play a role in the uptake of SICS and highlighted that social factors also have an impact, especially trust. It concluded the need for policies that support the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices in a coherent way. 

The Chelsea Flower Show is underway this week and saw the New Blue Peter garden, ‘Discover Soil’, win silver. Juliet Sargent,  garden designer and TV presenter, created the garden to engage children in soils and share a message of ‘don’t treat soil as dirt’. It included sounds of compost and a place to watch what happens below the ground.