28 October 2022
Following Rishi Sunak becoming Prime Minister this week, Therese Coffey has been appointed the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Coffey was previously a junior minister in the department during the UK transition from the EU. Mark Spencer has also been re-appointed as a junior minister in the department.
As part of the Environment Land Management schemes, the government has released data on the number of farms that have signed Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) agreements since its launch in July. The SFI is currently focused on soil standards, with farmers expected to undertake several actions to improve soil health. Currently 1,646 farm businesses have signed up to the SFI, as of 18th October 2022.
The Farmers’ Weekly has taken a look at six soil carbon schemes and their potential to provide additional revenue to UK farmers. Prof. Mark Reed from the Scotland Rural College (SRUC) and a member of the SSA-led UK Farm Soil Carbon Code (UKFSCC) Consortium, highlights that a set of minimum requirements would help accredit schemes that were reliable and ensure high-integrity in the soil carbon market.
A new sustainability service is being set up by the Soil Association and Lloyds Bank. The Soil Association Exchange will allow farmers to apply for discounted loans to undertake sustainable practices including soil health, carbon emissions and water quality.
Future impacts of climate change on crop yields and soils in the UK has been examined by researchers from the University of Oxford, the Met Office and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Their study found that climate-related impacts on crop yields, especially wheat will increase, with warmer temperatures during the summer leading to higher yields. Heavy rainfall is expected, but higher temperatures were considered likely to help dry waterlogged soils.
A report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights the growing issue of agricultural use of plastics resulting in plastics ending up in soils. The report shows that microplastics from agriculture are having both positive (absorbing other soil contaminants e.g. heavy metals) and negative (reducing root growth of plants) impacts on soils, including on invertebrates and physio-chemical properties. Key sources for these microplastics from agriculture were shown as being biodegradable mulch, synthetic fertilisers and polymer coated seeds.
New technologies are helping farmers improve and protect soil health. Through cover crops and robots, farmers are being enabled to undertake practices that do not lead to the destruction and heavy-negative impacts on soil health. Technologies for minimum tillage are also being developed, including by major agricultural machinery firms like John Deere.
Former World-Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming (WWOOF-UK) volunteers discuss how the WWOOF experiences supported them in learning about farming, including soils. Matt and Laura Elliot explain to Wicked Leeks how through volunteering on different organic farms in the WWOOF scheme, they were able to gain an understanding of soils and have since focused on soil health and biodiversity on their own farm.