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27 January 2023

Clarity on England’s Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) has been provided by the government. Defra has published specific practices farmers will need to undertake in order to support the environment and receive payments. Different payments will be offered for different actions set out, alongside existing payments for actions in the Sustainable Farming Incentive soil standards and Countryside Stewardship. Payments and actions will be able to be stacked by farmers.

The Scottish government is investing in sustainable agriculture with 680 rural and agricultural businesses receiving a total of £14 million from the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme.  AECS is a post-Brexit agricultural fund in Scotland to support environmental actions in agriculture. With this funding it is hoped that farmers will be supported to bring about many environmental benefits including healthy soils. 

A number of UK food and farming organisations have signed a consensus on food, farming and nature. The consensus focuses on what farming of the future should embrace, including nature as an ally of food and farming, and achieving healthy diets and owning our footprint. Sustain, the RSPB, and the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission are among those who have signed the consensus. The consensus aims to encourage government, businesses and other decision-making bodies to support the future of farming and invest in certain actions.

Several biotechnology companies are developing methods of applying fungi to soils in order to increase carbon capture. Fungi are important in capturing and storing carbon in soils. The first commercial fungi-based products are now being made available in Australia for farmers to apply to their seeds before planting them. 

The UK is not able to provide enough fruit and vegetables to meet the need for everyone to have their 5 a day recommended amount. This is partly due to the reliance on imports from other countries, but also a result of degraded soils. The Fenlands, in the east of England, where a large amount of UK vegetables comes from, is experiencing high levels of carbon leaching from peat soils. Soil degradation has also led to lower yields.

A ‘Raise the pulse’ project is aiming to encourage British consumers to switch to bread made from faba beans. As a grass legume the faba bean can help fix nitrogen soil and has the greatest potential in comparison to other grains in producing high yields sustainably. Changing wheat bread to faba beans could be a major transition with 96% of people in Britain eating bread and 90% of which is white bread often containing soya that has poor implications for soils and deforestation. 

A study in the US has found that people exposed to glyphosate pesticides used on soils, often in the form of weedkillers, have cancer biomarkers in their urine. Farmers who had used glyphosate during the study period were found to have these biomarkers which exist in the form of oxidative stress that causes damage to DNA. This stress has been found in substances formed from the breakdown of glyphosate in soils. 

Soil organisms are key to maintaining urban green spaces like city parks. New research has highlighted that through conserving soil biodiversity within urban green spaces, ecosystems can work in different ways, helping sustain urban ecosystems and human well being.