The All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology for Sustainable Food and Farming has published its conclusions on their Inquiry into soil health.
These are direct quotes from their web page on their findings:
“The reports raise serious concerns about the state of UK soil, concluding with policy recommendations in the following key areas:
- Climate change: soil can act as both a carbon sink and emitter, but government policy does not go far enough to preserve soil quality and current incremental plans to improve agricultural performance are far from sufficient. Soils must be incorporated into the Government’s climate change strategy.
- Knowledge: it is not possible to study soil science below postgraduate level, often making soil the most neglected component of land use. Policymakers, farm businesses and advisers are less likely to consider soil as the cause or solution to a problem.
- Testing and data collection: the national picture on soil health is deplorably lacking, and there are currently no assessment plans, despite the Government commitment to ensure that all soils are managed sustainably by 2030.
- Farming methods: maize crops for energy use are often proving to be implicated in soil compaction and flooding. Policy must also encourage extensive farming over intensive farming, and business and political infrastructure surrounding our diverse farm sector must work harder to safeguard soil.”
You can download the four Briefing Papers here. This report backs up and goes further than the Environmental Audit Commitee’s report on Flooding: co-operation across Government which I wrote about last week – see here. It also backs up the consultation document issued by the Department for Energy and Climate Change on the use of maize for anaerobic digestion – see here.
The Soil and Farming Methods report contains the following:-
One concern expressed by both the Soil Association and Committee on Climate Change is the practice of growing crops for the production of energy (it must also be noted that the benefits of biomass as a carbon neutral energy source are disputed). The key concerns are not only that land used for energy biomass ought to be used for food production, but that the most common energy crop – maize – causes significant damage to soils when inappropriately managed. In the absence of any effective regulation on the growing of maize, and in light of the public subsidies available for renewable energy which incentivises its cultivation, significant concern has been expressed that this is a practice which urgently needs to be reviewed.
The basic concerns associated with maize cultivation – that the current regulatory and advisory model is inadequate to ensure proper soil management and protection – can be extended to many other aspects of farming and land management. Inappropriate irrigation, short rotations, disruption of the nitrogen cycle, poor planning, overuse of heavy machinery, selecting the wrong land for certain crops. All of these practices have been identified by witnesses as contributing to the problem of soil erosion and compaction, and to loss of organic matter.
The report also includes this Policy Recommendation.
- Improve cross-compliance regulations so that the minimum requirements for Pillar 1 payments (single farm payment) include greater protections for soil.
These 4 briefing papers are important and are worth reading. It is however depressing to note that the Group considers that modern agriculture tends to undervalue soil health and management and knowledge about it is at an all time low.
The Soil and Farming Methods report I think is another nail in the maize – biofuel coffin but as I have said before maize grown for biofuels only accounts for 20% of the maize grown in the UK. The other 80% is grown for livestock feed. The recommendation above however if implemented would cover that as well.
All Party Parliamentary Groups meet together, relatively informally, to discuss a particular issue of concern. APPGs have no formal place in the legislature, but are an effective way of bringing together parliamentarians and interested parties.