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24 February 2023

Following its annual conference this week, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) warns that the clock is ticking on UK food security action. With supermarkets taking precautions to ration some fruit and vegetable items to ensure access with supply shortages, the President of the NFU, Minette Batters has said that farmers need support to protect the UK food supply as farm costs have risen by almost 50% since 2019. The government argues it is supporting farmers through the Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) and its focus on sustainable food production.

A first of its kind mapping project around ‘forever chemicals’ (PFAS) shows that there are high levels of chemicals on thousands of sites across the UK and Europe. They have polluted soils, often due to use in different chemical substances such as firefighting foam or military equipment. PFAS have previously been linked to causing various illnesses in humans.  

Greenwashing claims around Net Zero by businesses are now facing increased scrutiny with potential consequences for carbon credit markets. The Advertising Standards Agency has stated that some claims made by UK businesses are unqualified. A further investigation by the Guardian has found that 90% of rainforest carbon credits are ‘worthless’. This could push greater focus on high integrity carbon-credit markets including for soil carbon.

Defra Environment Minister Rebecca Pow, highlighted in a recent debate in the House of Commons on water pollution, that soil run-off into water is an issue that needs to be tackled alongside sewage pollution. She noted that we do not want soil in our water and we need soil to remain on the land. To face this problem, Pow pointed out that the government has targets to reduce soil sediment run-off.

A new research paper has made the case that soil carbon sequestration is not always a win-win. The paper notes that previous advocates of Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) sequestration often do not take into consideration saturation within estimates for how much carbon can be sequestered, this leads to over-estimates. Furthermore, crop yield changes from increases in SOC can have either neutral or negative results.

A new study has shown that areas that need nature to be restored would benefit from soil transplantation. Soil transplantation involves taking healthy soil including plant seeds and placing it in an area where nature is degraded. Through the transplant, nature can recover quickly and is sustained by the soil.

Climate change is threatening areas where coffee can be produced, pushing coffee-growers to find new practices. Researchers have found that temperature increases could reduce coffee-growing areas by 50%. This has prompted coffee-growers to seek alternative ways of growing coffee including planting extra trees that provide shade from direct sunlight for coffee plants and upgrades soil quality through fertilising soils with leaf litter.

Charcoal-like material has the potential to improve soil health and support climate-smart agriculture advocated in the US, according to new research by the University of Connecticut. Biochar, which is produced from organic material like wood waste, heated at high temperatures without oxygen, has been found to support soils that capture carbon. As biochar takes a long time to break down it increases soil’s carbon content. This can support climate-smart agriculture which focuses on improving soil health.