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14 October 2022

UK Soils Awareness Week has been taking place throughout this week, exciting public interest in the importance of soils including discussing it on the BBC World News Service. The week has involved the testing of knowledge around soils with a soil quiz, but also providing information with a lexicon, and top tips for how people can support healthy soils. On Thursday, uksoils member Prof. Bridget Emmett spoke to the BBC World News Service about how soil is key to all life and why the week has been making people aware of this. 

Also this week, the Countryside COP2 led by the Championing the Farmed Environment partnership which involves the National Farmers’ Union and the Country Business and Landowners Association (CLA) has been taking place. Countryside COP2 is focused on championing the role of the rural and farming community in supporting the environment. The programme for COP2 has included consideration of farming on peat soils, soil health and water security, and sustainable soil solutions. 

On Saturday the Land Workers’ Alliance will be urging the government to take action for good food and good farming. The Alliance is leading several organisations and hundreds of people in holding a protest march through London to highlight the need for the government to do more to transition our food and farming systems. 

Arla dairy cooperative is looking to pay farmers more for their milk if they meet climate targets. Dairy farmers who supply milk to Arla will be expected to reduce emissions by 30% per kilo of milk by 2030. Arla has already identified six ways to reduce dairy emissions including peat soils and the handling of manure. 

Nestle plans to invest €1 billion into NESCAFE Plan 2030, which aims to make coffee production sustainable. Through the plan, Nestle hopes to convince farmers to use cover crops and organic fertilisers to improve soil health. Nestle will provide training, technical assistance and high-yielding coffee plants.  

The European Environment Agency has analysed the progress and prospects of decarbonisation in agriculture across Europe. It noted that non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) had declined by 15% between 1990 and 2000 but only by 2% since 2005. A key non-CO2 emission in agriculture is nitrogen oxide which often comes from agricultural soils due to fertiliser use. As a result, the Agency encourages a reduction in nitrogen applied to fields and improvements to grassland soils to enhance soil carbon stocks. 

A study in Italy has considered key barriers to the implementation of crop diversification strategies and alternative management practices to help improve soils and the sustainability of agriculture. The study found that the main challenges arose from the loss of profitability and the risk of farm abandonment, as well as a major weakness arising from farmers’ lack of knowledge about crop diversification. 

Cumulus Consultants have put together a report on the Economics of a Transition to Agroecological Farm Businesses. It considers whether farmers can transition to sustainable farming practices that support soil health while maintaining profitability. Alongside this, it suggests potential policies that could support these transitions including redirecting money from reductions in basic payments into agri-environmental schemes.

Research by the University of Oxford has found that soils contaminated by pesticides impact the preservation of archaeological metal objects. Most of the soils studied were contaminated by chemicals from pesticides that had been banned more than 50 years ago. However, they are still impacting the soils and leading to the corrosion of archaeological metal objects that are in the soil.