MPs called for improved soil health to be rewarded through farm payments during the first ever parliamentary debate on the topic last week.
Soil health was being discussed on the back of the Environmental Audit Committee’s report into the issue which was published earlier this year.
The report recommended the Government take a number of actions to improve soil health, such as refining cross compliance in order to ‘mitigate’ agriculture’s impact; creating an ‘incentive structure’ in the 25-year environment plan to encourage farmers to ‘contribute to sustainable management of soils’; excluding maize from renewable energy subsidy and taking tougher action to prevent peatlands being burned and drained.
Mary Creagh, chair of the committee, said: “One of the first findings of our report is that soil is a Cinderella environmental issue. It receives a lot less attention than air pollution, water quality and climate change, but supports 95 per cent of the world’s food production.”
The MPs who spoke were critical of the Government’s progress on improving soil health so far, claiming its target to ‘sustainably manage’ soil by 2030 would not be met without change to policy.
There were calls for the Government to introduce a rolling national monitoring scheme, similar to the one in place in Wales, but the minister, Therese Coffey, rejected the idea on the grounds of expense.
Other MPs claimed farmers monitoring chemicals in soil was not enough and the Government should be looking at the organic and carbon content of soil too.
European Union policies were criticised by Rebecca Pow MP, who said: “I do not think there should be a blame game against farmers. Many of the ways farmers have been forced to farm have been directed by our policies of low-cost food. That is why many farmers have gone down the route of monoculture and least-cost production and our European Community policies have encouraged that.”
But concerns were raised about the impact of increased food production on soil quality, with one MP claiming ‘it is unwise to look at food and farming purely from an economic, money-making viewpoint and nothing more’.