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05 August 2022

The 22nd World Congress of Soil Science (WCSS22) is taking place in Glasgow this week. The WCSS22 aims to look at the link between soils and society, and the role of soil health in helping tackle climate change. Over 3,000 soil scientists and policymakers are attending from across the world. SSA Co-Director Ellen Fay gave a talk as part of the Congress’ policy program, on raising soils political profile and the role of soil science in doing so.

The latest farmer survey by Defra shows that farmers are sceptical that new agricultural policies such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive and the soil standards, will benefit farming in the UK. The survey saw 65% of farmers state that they are ‘not at all confident’ that the changes to the English incentive schemes and regulations will benefit farmers.

Following the launch of the outline of the Welsh Sustainable Farming Scheme, the Welsh government is opening co-design consultations over the summer. They are encouraging farmers and members of the rural community to give feedback on the outline. 

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has called for ‘targeted solutions’ to reduce microplastics in soils. The UNEP is concerned that microplastics are affecting soil productivity and impacting soil health. They particularly urge that a standardised microplastic filter for washing machines is introduced across the world, preventing microplastics ending up in sewage sludge that is applied to agricultural soils. 

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is mapping out soils in Sub Saharan Africa. The FAO hopes to improve the use of fertiliser and increase food security through mapping soils, with the data allowing local farmers to apply accurate amounts of fertiliser to the soils. This will ensure that fertiliser supplies are not wasted and support maximum crop yields from the soils being produced.

New research by Cranfield University highlights that we need to change the way we see soils. Researchers argue that one score for soil health does not provide a full picture. Instead, they conclude that a new framework is needed to approach soil health which includes signs for life, signs of complexity, and the extent to which soil responds to stress. 

Research published in the Nature Geoscience, has discovered that the peat soils in the Congo are larger than had previously been thought. The research shows that the Congo peatlands could help slow climate change in a greater way than predicted since they are the size of England and Wales combined. They store three years’ worth of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. 

A study of soil samples from areas inhabited by the ancient Maya society shows they practised what we would call today sustainable agriculture. Soil samples contained preserved genetic material from plants, which indicate that wild plants were left to grow as part of forests while other areas were used for agriculture. At first slash and burn was used but this became unsustainable as populations grew, so particular areas were used for food production and for reservoirs that supplied water.