Britain’s new agricultural policy could include a national recovery plan to reverse decades of soil decline and improve soil health.
MPs and stakeholders speaking at the launch of the Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA) in the House of Commons, called on the Government to use the Common Agricultural Policy’s replacement to incentivise farmers and growers to help improve soils by means of ‘soil stewardship’ payments.
The event heard how the UK lost 2.2 million tonnes of vitally important topsoil each year, at an estimated cost to the economy of £45m.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said farmers were the original ‘friends of the earth’ but had been ’incentivised by a type of farming which has damaged the earth’.
“Farmers know that and want to change,” he said, adding there was an opportunity to address soil health in Defra’s 25 Year Food and Farming Plan and the upcoming Agriculture Bill.
Event host Rebecca Pow, Defra Private Parliamentary Secretary, added: “This is not about attacking farmers incorporating them in the way to go forward.”
Prof Chris Collins, co-ordinator of the Soil Security Programme called for an effective soil monitoring programme and a framework which built soil health.
“We need legislation that encourages good soil management,” he added.
Patrick Holden, Sustainable Food Trust chief executive said there was a ‘golden opportunity’ to link pillar one payments with soil health and effectively reward farmers for rebuilding lost carbon as part of a soil stewardship scheme. He also mooted the idea of tackling the soil carbon deficit as part of a future crop insurance scheme.
Co-founder of the Eden Project Tim Smit said the onus was now on training young people in looking after soil and raising the profile of agronomy, as part of a new ’agricultural revolution’.
Woodland Trust chairman of trustees Barbara Young said working with farmers to incorporate trees was a way to ‘combat erosion, to provide protection from wind and rain, dramatically improve stability and stop soil being literally washed away in front of farmers’ eyes.’