2 December 2022

The chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, urged farms to put nature including soils at the centre of food production to ensure food security. He also argued at the Farming for Food and Nature conference that the government needed to maintain the focus on nature by the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), and confirmed that he believed the Local Nature Recovery scheme will remain and encompass an improved Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

WWF and ClientEarth have submitted a complaint to the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) about the Environment Agency ‘missing in action’ in enforcing regulations on nitrogen pollution on farms. Between 2020 and 2021, Environment Agency inspections found breeches to nitrogen regulations by over half of farms inspected, but only one civil sanction was taken. Nitrates have a damaging impact on natural habitats including soils ecosystems.

In Holland however, the Dutch government plans to close up to 3,000 farms in order to tackle illegal nitrogen pollution under EU laws. Due to high nitrous oxide emissions from fertiliser use on soils and manure from large livestock numbers, EU courts have ruled Holland has broken legal EU nitrogen pollution levels. In response, the Dutch government is offering to buy-up farms by over 100% of their value and close them. 

Next year the US Congress is expected to pass a new Farm Bill which will set out how the government will support US farmers and agriculture for up to 5 years. Some, including the lobbyist group, Regenerate Coalition, are pushing for the bill to support regenerative farming practices that improve soil health like cover crops. 

With COP27 finished, farmers are disappointed that the focus on food and agriculture failed to result in food system approaches to the climate being involved in the final agreement. Instead, there was an increase in Big Agriculture representatives at the COP and consideration for practical solutions around soils, water and biodiversity, were displaced by a focus on climate-smart agriculture.

As part of the Global Farm Metric coalition led by the Sustainable Farming Trust, the SSA has highlighted the need for consistency in soil measurements. In an article for the Sustainable Food Trust, the SSA also discussed its wider work on soil monitoring and incentives to support on-farm sustainability and the future of UK soil policy. 

A new study by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has found that less intensely grazed land had 50% more varieties and species of plants as well as improved soil health compared to intensive grasslands. The study focused on lands managed by Pasture for Life farmers who graze land less intensely, with limited use of fertilisers and ploughing, and compared these to results from intensive farmland in the Countryside Survey.

On the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking show, presenter Anne McElvoy has taken a look at developments in agricultural ideas from city farms to chickens and soil. This includes a look at soil in the writings of Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx to explore how we might learn from these earlier ideas. 

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