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15 December 2023

Applications have opened for farmers to apply for funding to attract private investment into nature. As part of the UK government’s scheme to attract investment to support ecosystem services such as carbon capture and natural flood management, it’s offering grants of up to £100,000 to support enhanced environmental outcomes which includes improving and protecting soil health. 

 Scotland’s nature agency, NatureScot, has reported that the percentage of sealed soil has increased over the last ten years from 1.55% to 1.89%. Though a relatively low percentage, it highlights that the urban areas where sealing is at its highest are also the areas most at risk of flooding. The report also points to some innovative nature restoration projects which are ongoing to enhance biodiversity.  

 Some farmers in Northern Ireland are being sent analysis of Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA) Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) this week. Farmers in the first zone of the soil sampling programme will receive information on soil nutrient levels, a baseline of soil carbon levels and will highlight future funding opportunities. The programme is due to be completed by 2026. 

COP’s first ever day dedicated to Food, Agriculture and Water was held on 10th December, concluding an agenda which saw food systems and agriculture take more of a spotlight than in previous years. This week, multiple non-state actors signed a Call to Action on food systems transformation, which included a critical action to improve soil health through investment, research, and improving soil practices to increase carbon, prevent pollution and reverse degradation. 

 Various media outlets included coverage of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s (EFRA)  report into soil health. Farmers Weekly, Ends Report, Hort Week and The Scottish Farmer highlighted the report’s key findings and point to the recommendation that soil should be treated with as much importance as air and water. The National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) welcomed the committee’s recommendations, and Sustain highlighted the importance of the recommendation for increased budgets for Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMs).  While the Soil Association welcomes the warnings included in the report, it calls for greater government action to protect soils.   

 Food giants including PepsiCo, McDonald’s and Mars part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative's Agribusiness Task Force have announced a new framework which aims to unlock finance to support regenerative farming practices. Their report outlines plans to tackle the economic barriers to transitioning through the development of new funding models, suggestions for government policy and the creation of new revenue schemes, which includes the year-round generation of soil carbon credits.  

 A new report by FoodDrinkEurope, the industry body representing food and drink in Europe, has estimated that a transition to sustainable agriculture will cost €30 billion. The report highlighted that soil health should be a key indicator of success, and compares the cost of the transition to the cost of soil degradation – estimated at €50 billion each year.  

Entries have opened for 2024’s competition to find the UK’s champion soil farmer. Run by Farm Carbon Toolkit and Innovation for Agriculture, the competition is in its tenth year, and recognises farmers who put soil at the forefront of farm decision making. The winners will be announced at Groundswell 2024 and will host a farm walk to share their soil improving ideas and practices. 

An initiative in Yorkshire has launched which will see farmers plant ‘pop-up rainforests’ to reduce the risk of flooding. 20 farmers will each plant a minimum of 20 hectares of cover crops to improve soil health and water quality to ask as a natural defense against flooding. The project is part of a collaboration between agricultural consultancy Future Food Solutions and Yorkshire Water, who are funding the project.