Intensive agriculture is damaging English soil health | The Scottish Farmer

The article was first published on The Scottish Farmer, you can view the original here.

Four million hectares of soil are at risk of compaction due to intensive agricultural practices in England and Wales – according to a new report by the Environment Agency.

Arable soils have lost 40 to 60% of their organic carbon and there are growing concerns that soil management is being overlooked in environmental policy debates.

In light of climate change targets which fall on the shoulders of the farming community, the Soil Association said that better soil management was needed in order to minimise greenhouse gas emissions, restore lost biodiversity and to boost soil health in order to sustainably feed a growing population.

SA associate director for farming and land use, Liz Bowles, commented: “This report is yet another alarming warning that we must change the way to manage soils and we cannot continue to ignore the impact many current farming practices are having on our soils. Soils hold three times more carbon than the atmosphere and all life depends on it – it is essential we protect and restore it for climate resilience and food security.”

The report revealed that more than two million hectares of soil are at risk of erosion – and that soil degradation was calculated in 2010 to cost £1.2bn every year.

“We urgently need connected food and farming policies that support farmers to adopt nature friendly, agroecological farming systems, such as organic, which put natural systems first and chemicals last,” Ms Bowles continued. “Research has shown this type of farming holds the answer to restoring biodiversity and soil, halving greenhouse gas emissions, while still being able to feed a growing European population a healthy diet. We call on the government to prioritise soil health and agroecology in the upcoming Agriculture and Environment Bills.”

The report also suggested that new pesticides that have been developed to reduce quantities needed are having a negative consequence on soil organisms. There have been significant reductions in area of orchards, natural grasslands and wetlands which provide habitats for rare species but are now being converted to intensive farming as well as facing pressure from land development. In order to improve soil and water quality moving forward, the report highlights the need for increased tree planting, restoration of peatlands and a change in farming practices.

The deputy director of SA Scotland, David Michie, explained the situation north of the border: “Most of Scottish soils are fine – our climate, soil type, and cultivations mean that there is little depletion in most of Scotland. But there are some on the east coast (i.e. Fife, East Lothian) that are running down soil organic matter.”