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30 September 2022

Concerns have been raised by major environmental organisations over the UK government’s review of the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS). WWF, RSPB and the Soil Association have argued that the new schemes are urgently needed to support farmers in improving soil health and wider ecosystems, and believe the government should avoid returning to payments based on the size of land-owned by individuals. The government has stated that it is only reviewing the schemes and is not scrapping payments for the environment.

According to a forage and grassland specialist, 5 tonnes per acre is being lost in Wales due to land left bare over winter. Charlie Morgan, the specialist, explained this impact on soil by agriculture to Welsh farmers at a farm open day. Morgan has also offered solutions including supporting farmers to move to grass-based seeding of fields over winter. This has helped ‘anchor’ soil and reduced runoff. It also provides feed for sheep, while the earthworm count in grass-based crops has also increased by up to 50% compared to other crops. 

A warning has been given for $1.9 trillion of industries’ debt at risk from biodiversity losses. The financial credit company Moody’s released a report saying that biodiversity loss with damage to ecosystem services on land, sea and in the air, is likely to put a high-level of risk on industries including mining and fossil fuels as policies and investor agendas seek sustainable approaches. A further $9.6 trillion of debt is at risk from direct natural-environment collapse, especially for agriculture and forestry. 

Advocates for action on soil health in the US are beginning to campaign ahead of the US farm bill in 2023. The farm bill is a law that is passed roughly every five years in the US by Congress and dictates how the government supports agriculture. Grassroots organisations, small farmers, and big companies like Nestle and PepsiCo are lobbying Congress to ensure the bill provides support for farmers to improve soil health including funding for cover crops, reduced fertiliser use and no-till farming. 

The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Global Soil Partnership has announced the theme for the World Soil Day 2022. World Soil Day will be taking place on the 5th December and highlight the importance of soil for food production and campaign on ‘soils, where food begins’. It will focus on the role of soil for nutrition and act as a call for action and empathy for those facing the greatest threat from soil degradation.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is taking steps to move towards supporting more sustainable farming practices. Following an evaluation of its work in Africa, AGRA was found to oversee a decline rather than an increase in yields for farmers despite aiming to double productivity over roughly 15 years. Now in response AGRA is planning to drop ‘Green Revolution’ from its title and is aiming to get 40% of targeted farmers to adopt seed varieties that are climate-smart and nutrient dense, and get 30% of farmers to undertake sustainable farming practices.

A study by Harvard University has highlighted the important role of soil moisture for crop yields. Most studies of water used by crops have focused on rainfall (precipitation) but the new study used satellite data on global soil moisture and its relation with crop yields. It was concluded that soil moisture has a major impact on crop yields and further research is needed on the effect of climate change on this.