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8 March 2024

The consultation on the Welsh Sustainable Farming Scheme came to an end this week, and farmers have continued their protests against the proposed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) replacement. Farmers in North Wales staged a ‘Go-slow’ in a stand against the requirement that 20% of land is dedicated to trees and wildlife habitat, and 5,500 pairs of wellies were left outside the Welsh parliament to represent the estimated number of jobs lost under the new scheme.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced that it will protect English hedgerows in law following a consultation last year. Hedgerows, which slow soil erosion and help sequester carbon, will be protected under a new regulation which will include a cutting ban between March and August to protect birds, and a two meter ‘buffer strip’ where fertiliser or pesticides cannot be applied.

UK farming unions and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) have issued a joint statement calling for Red Tractor to drop its Greener Farms Commitment module following a recent report into its governance. The group urged Red Tractor to move quickly to implement the recommendations made in the Campbell Tickell report, and warned that continuing the roll out of the programme would be ‘extremely damaging’ to the assurance body’s reputation.

Multiple new sustainable farming initiatives have been announced by the food industry this week, offering subsidies and support to farmers adopting regenerative practices. Drinks brand Innocent has pledged £1million in grants to help its suppliers transition to low-carbon practices and boost biodiversity. Morrisons has launched its new Sustainable Farm Networks programme in partnership with Harper Adams University which will offer farmers within their supply chain training on practices which will reduce their environmental impact, and baselining soil quality. Meanwhile, Unilever has announced its first regenerative agriculture programme in the UK, which will include the use of low carbon fertiliser and the introduction of cover crops on trial farms.

A report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh has said that subsidies given to conifer tree planting schemes in Scotland should be scrapped, with investment instead given to native forests which are able to store more soil carbon, better support biodiversity and have a longer lifespan. The report highlighted that current tree planting schemes create monocultures of trees with a short lifespan, and said that a shift in public spending is needed to maximise benefit.

Pete Smith, Professor of Soil and Global Change at the University of Aberdeen, featured on a BBC podcast The Life Scientific discussing soil carbon and soil health in the context of climate change. He discussed how the scope of his research has broadened throughout his career to include biodiversity, ecosystem services and land use change, as well as the importance of safeguarding peatland and wetlands to protect the climate.

Tech start-up Soil Benchmark is offering free access to a new feature in its Digital Soil Management Platform until 15 March. The platform provides tailored Soil Management Plans and information on compliance with soil assessment within Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme, and the new feature offers field specific Soil Management Plans and helps with compliance to Farming Rules for Water regulations. 

The Low Carbon Agriculture Show took place in Stoneleigh on Thursday this week, showcasing ways to address climate change in farming through new technologies, best practice and the generation of renewable energy. A session on soil health looked at the various drivers of soil measurement and the range of metrics and indicators used for different outcomes.