Addressing the complexities and challenges of soil management

26 March 2024

Environment and climate
A photo of soil in a persons' hands.

At the latest meeting of the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum, experts and stakeholders from across various sectors were bought together to discuss the need for supportive policies that can help farmers reach sustainable soil management targets.

Key speakers, including NFU Environment Forum chair Richard Bramley, provided valuable insights into the priorities for assisting land managers and farmers in moving towards sustainably managed soils.

Policy support

Richard emphasised soil as being as a critical asset for society, highlighting the multifaceted interactions within soil, both biological and non-biological. While farmers are actively engaged in soil management practices, there is a consensus on the need for supportive policies to accelerate adoption of sustainable practices.

With the EIP (Environmental Improvement Plan) goal for soils being to manage 40% of England's agricultural soil sustainably by 2028, increasing to 60% by 2030, there is a pressing need for policy support to effectively address challenges in prioritising soil management.

Richard also pressed home the necessity of coherent regulation to ensure effective soil protection and management.

Defining sustainable soil

A crucial aspect discussed was the need for a clear definition of sustainable soil management practices.

Richard proposed a definition encompassing practices aimed at nurturing soil health, enhancing productivity, fostering resilience, and supporting environmental improvements. This definition serves as a foundational guide for aligning policies and practices towards sustainable soil management.

He also emphasised that external factors, such as extreme weather and the economic market, can cause huge impacts on soil management practices, stressing the need for policy support to mitigate their effects.

Recognising farmers as custodians of the land, Richard stressed the importance of supporting the implementation of sustainable practices. While farmers are actively engaged in soil management, they require support and investment to navigate challenges and adopt innovative approaches.

Agroforestry and diversification

With practices such as agroforestry and diversification, such as cover cropping, beginning to receive attention within the agricultural community, Richard discussed their potential in highlighting soil health. 

While these practices can offer benefits, they also entail risks and require support and investment to encourage widespread adoption.

Societal and supply chain change

The supply chain has a critical role in supporting soil health, with tough, just in time contracts often putting soils and farm businesses under pressure.

Richard emphasised the importance of recognising the broader societal impacts of soil management practices and the need for collective action to address soil degradation and ensure sustainable agriculture.

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