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20 February 2020

Unearthed has revealed that firms are making billions from highly hazardous pesticides of risk to the health of humans and the environment. The investigative arm of Greenpeace studied data from leading agribusiness analysts and found that use of harmful chemicals is higher in poorer nations. Around 200,000 suicides/year are attributed to pesticide poisoning, almost all in developing countries.

Rebecca Pow MP, who has done so much to support the SSA and champion the soils cause in parliament, has been reinstated as Environment Minister. One of her first duties was to visit Wallasea Island, Europe’s largest coastal habitat restoration project created from the 3m tonnes of earth displaced by the building of London’s CrossRail system.

The Food & Drink Sector Council’s Agriculture Productivity working group released its latest report. It names soil condition (as a part of natural capital) as one of the six main drivers of productivity; highlights the dramatic soil health benefits of on-farm automation and autonomous systems; and concludes that a paradigm shift in crop and soil health is both a primary challenge and opportunity for UK agriculture.

Flooding has been high on the media agenda this week – but whilst pictures of muddy rivers and compacted fields have been rife on social media, little mention has been made of soils in traditional outlets.

The exception is The Telegraph, which suggested that to prevent future floods “we have to focus on our soils…We need to go back to using more muck, which increases organic matter and helps our fields to act like giant sponges. There should be a ban on burning straw in power stations, it should be used to feed our soils instead.”

The Times focused on the need to plant gardens rather than build houses: “15 football pitches of green land is lost in Edinburgh each year as small areas like private gardens are covered or built on... Concreting can cause flash floods due to fewer plants & less soil available to absorb water.”

The Guardian highlighted a 5 year study of the impact of beavers in Devon, which has concluded that introduction of the creatures brought significant benefits to people and wildlife – a major positive being the alleviation of flooding. The beavers also helped filter pollutants including manure, slurry and fertilisers from the river.

Meanwhile, Farmers Guardian covered the impact of waterlogging on soils and crop health.  Saturation causes microbial populations to decline and mycorrhizae fungi to fall by about half, and the number of earthworms is reduced, whilst aerobic bacteria are replaced with anaerobic bacteria which produce gases like methane and nitrous oxide.

Looking abroad, India are celebrating 5 years of implementation of the Soil Health Card scheme, including widespread building of new testing labs, soil sampling and data analysing activity. The scheme aimed to redress the country’s major issues of soil degradation and has helped to promote sustainable farming.

And in Africa, Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration is restoring degraded soils by taking advantage of the ‘underground forest’ via a traditional method of coppicing. The method has benefits for food and fuel production, habitat preservation and carbon storage.