Secretary of State Commits to Soil Health

Secretary of State Commits to Soil

This week, Secretary of State, Michael Gove committed to fund soil health monitoring, and to ensure it is included in the forthcoming 25 year environment plan. The Soil Association has been championing the need for Government to prioritise soil health, including by improved monitoring, and we welcome this announcement. 

The Secretary of State made his speech at the Sustainable Soils Alliance parliamentary reception hosted by Rebecca Pow MP, formerly a member of the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, which carried out the first ever parliamentary inquiry into soils last year. The gathering of almost 200 farmers, policy-makers, scientists and soil enthusiasts demonstrated the breadth of support for policy that supports healthy soil.

Mr Gove’s speech on soil recognised both the value of soil health and the state of emergency that UK soils are in:

“We may be 30, 50, 60 harvests away from the fundamental eradication of [soil] fertility in parts of our country. The point that was made forcibly to me, was that countries can withstand amazing things, horrific things. Countries can withstand wars and conflicts. They can withstand even leaving the European Union. But what no country can withstand is the loss of its soil and its fertility and therefore there is an emergency.”

The speech indicated soil will be firmly embedded in future farm policy:

“We have incentivised and encouraged a type of farming in this country which has damaged soil. If you have heavy machines churning the soil, impacting it, if you drench it in chemicals, which of course were designed to ensure that yields could increase but in the process also undercut the future fertility of that soil, yes you can increase yields year on year on year, but ultimately you really are cutting away the ground from underneath you. Farmers know that and they want support to change and that’s what we intend to do, not just in the 25 Year Environment Plan, but in the Agriculture Bill …and the new form of support that we want to generate.”

Gove at meeting

Before delivering his speech, Mr Gove heard from a panel of soil experts including Helen Browning, who highlighted practical ways for farmers to improve soil health and policies that could encourage them. In a comment published before the event, Helen said:

 "The future of our farms, and the food on our plates, relies on all of us taking steps to save our soils. Restoring our soils to health has been at the heart of our mission at the Soil Association, as campaigners and farmers, for 70 years.

This exciting new alliance unites a fast-growing community of organisations, businesses and scientists – extending far beyond agriculture – behind the vital goal achieving this within a generation. 

To turn this vision into reality, bold new measures to protect and restore soil health must be at the very heart of the forthcoming Agriculture Bill – as well as the 25 year environment plan."

Helen Browning on her farm


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