Blog: Spreading the word on our most important asset

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Martin Rogers_170_255Martin Rogers is an NFU environment policy adviser.

He writes:

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Lorna Hegenbarth_275_260Lorna Hegenbarth is an NFU food chain adviser - Teaching children about healthy eating and where their food comes from

chris taylor, nfu staff_275_410Chris Taylor is our membership events manager - Why we're planning our 2016 conference NOW

ceris jones, square crop_275_259Ceris Jones is the NFU's climate change adviser - Why farmers are 'too shy' on climate issues

Lucia Zitti, NFU staff, economics, blog_275_410Lucia Zitti is an NFU economist - Why are British lamb prices so low?

Anna Logan_170_251Anna Logan is our BPS adviser - Final advice for 2015 BPS applications

Phil Bicknell, chief economist_182_275Phil Bicknell is the NFU's head of food and farming - Why farmers understand the danger of deflation

It is simply wrong to say that farmers don’t care about soil. In fact, over two thirds of British farmers regularly sample their soils for nutrients, organic matter, structure and moisture.

But we need to tell more people about the work we are doing.

That’s why the NFU played a lead role in the Soils Event at GWCT’s Allerton Project in Loddington . The day brought together more than 50 farmers, industry advisers, researchers and policy makers from Yorkshire to the Isle of Wight to celebrate and promote the excellent work we all do.

Chaired by Minette Batters, who opened by expressing how soils are an absolute priority to farmers in feeding the UKs growing population, the day contained some informative discussions on current soil management. How can we raise the profile of farmers as environmental stewards in harmony with the government's commitments to a 25 year food and farming growth plan?

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Every year is a year of soils for farmers

NFU Environment Forum member, Richard Bramley, started proceedings by discussing cover crop options he has used to improve biodiversity and preserve soils on his farm. It was interesting to see the challenges he faces as soil is put under increasing pressure from climate change and flooding.

Alastair Leake and Phil Jarvis of GWCT each summarised their work and findings at the project - most notably that the number of farmers using min-tillage systems increased from 10-45% between 1999-2005, saving on average 52minutes per hectare compared to ploughing. Rob Stobart of NIAB TAG went into greater detail of the variety of cover crop options, from mixed seeds with variable root depths to nitrogen-fixing legumes. Ian Matts from Yara concluded presentations by focussing on the importance of sampling soil organic matter.

My personal highlight of the tour of the Allerton Project, led by Jim Egan, was the display of min-tillage systems from SUMO and Dale Drills and the Claydon strip drill used at the project as low disturbance options. Most noticeably, fields which have not been tilled in the last five years were the most productive.

The soil pit demonstrated the deeper root profile which has developed through minimal and low till techniques which also assists in retaining soil moisture. More permanent cover crops were shown to be a viable option on portions of land which are awkward or unproductive- showing how voluntary initiatives are the key to protecting our soils over legislation.

Richard Bramley concluded his presentation in the same way he did at Green week in Brussels. He said: “2015 may be the international year of soils, but every year is a year of soils for farmers.” We hope the strong media turnout- including Countryfile and Farmers’ Weekly will assist in spreading this message far and wide.